Former marine, Brendan O’Toole, who received a punch in the face during his charity run through Wilmington, Del. last week, was back in Wilmington this morning running with veterans and members of the Wilmington Police Department.
According to O’Toole, this morning’s run was a show of support for veterans, as well as an effort to show he won’t be holding any grudges against the First State.
“We get a lot of negative things on the road here and there. That one definitely struck us a little bit harder, and gave me a bit of a headache, but I’m feeling great. I feel like we’re doing our best job to raise awareness and all the support we’re getting, it’s pretty contagious,” O’Toole said.
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“So, no qualms or bad feelings about Wilmington or Delaware; I’m just really thankful that everyone helped us as much as possible, and made a lot of noise, and we’ll see what happens the rest of the trip for New England.”
O’Toole, 26, of Alexandria, Va. began the 3,600 mile "Run for Veterans" in California last November on Veterans Day. His hope was to finish the run in Portland, Maine this November and to raise $2 million for veterans' causes along the way.
While running near Sixth and Market Streets around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, O’Toole says a man came out of nowhere, punched him in the face, and then took off running. The unexpected punch left O’Toole with a mild concussion and a bloodied face.
"My head was down, I had a hat on, and I just didn't see it coming. So when he hit me it just swept me right off my feet. It happened so quick and it was so ridiculous. I just kept going. I went two or three blocks before my head started pounding,” he said.
"My hope is that he was just excited about a hello, and gave me a high five, and over-exaggerated for it and missed, but the mark and the blood from it will show differently."
Unsure whether anyone else observed the incident, O'Toole was hopeful that the Wilmington Police Department would be able to track down surveillance video footage.
"I thought it would be a lost cause to try to find someone who had just hit me and ran, so at first I didn’t call police. After he hit me, he ran near an elementary school, and I thought, if he hit a grown man, he might hit one of those kids, and he must have mental health issue."
Wilmington police did find surveillance video of the incident and later arrested 21-year-old Garry Beauford of Chester in connection with the assault. The department tweeted a picture of the suspect after he was taken into custody late Thursday.
According to O’Toole, this was the first time anything like this happened during his entire cross-country run. Still, he says, he won’t be holding any grudges against Wilmington.
"Out of 13 states that I’ve been through, and I’ve been in some bad parts, I’ve never had a problem. So, it wasn’t even a thought in my mind that something like that was coming,” he said. “We don’t have a bad view of Wilmington or Delaware, it’s just unfortunate that it happened there.”
O’Toole says the idea to do The Run for Veterans came after a friend of his, a fellow Marine, committed suicide after completing a tour in Iraq.
"I had a buddy in the Corps who killed himself after his tour in Iraq. I also had many friends in the Marines and service members who left the Marines and when back to their hometowns and had a hard time with that transition," he said. "We thought this would be a good way to collect money for organizations that help with the difficulties a lot of veterans face."
According to the website, all donations collected will be disbursed to three national non-profit organizations that support military service members, Give an Hour, Team Red White and Blue, and The USO.
O'Toole reportedly completed two tours of duty in the United States Marine Corps between 2008 and 2012, according to Run for Veterans website. During the time in which he served, O'Toole was deployed to Haiti, in response to the 2010 earthquake, and to Afghanistan where he maintained tactical communications systems used to coordinate air strikes against insurgent forces. O’Toole completed his active duty military service at the rank of Sergeant in June, 2012.
O’Toole’s next stop is in Philadelphia. A Run for Veterans representative says they are re-routing the current map to avoid potentially ‘sketchy’ parts of the city.