Spending the day with 27-year-old Patryk Kogut is sort of like being with a politician at a parade. Every single person in his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, seems to know him. And if they don’t? No matter. Kogut will approach them anyway with a booming, “Hello! How are you!?” He freely gives out hugs and high-fives.
Kogut has autism spectrum disorder, so he doesn’t have the same kind of social filter the rest of us have. He is trusting to a fault. Unfortunately, that can also make people living with autism vulnerable.
Last week, Kogut was walking to his favorite store at the mall with his birthday money in hand—a $100 bill his mother had given him. That’s when police say he was approached by Steven St. Jacques. St. Jacques can be seen on surveillance video teasing Kogut and grabbing the money out of his hand. After pretending to put the bill back into Kogut’s pocket, police said, St. Jacques gave Kogut a hug and ran off with the cash. St. Jacques was arrested and now faces one to 10 years in jail on a felony larceny charge.
When officers at the Stamford Police Department heard about the crime, they were outraged. “Everybody was kinda like, who does something like that?” said Sgt. Kelly Connelly, the department’s public information officer. She started a collection among the officers to try and raise $100 for Kogut.
“Our intention was to get him back his birthday money, let him have a nice birthday,” Connelly said.
And it worked. When the community got word of what had happened to Kogut, people sent in checks and cash. So far, Connelly said, they’ve received $2,000.
“Of course I'm very proud of our police department,” said Stamford Mayor David Martin. “I'm proud of what they did. But it was even bigger than that in terms of my belief that there's something, a kernel of good, even amid all these terrible news stories that we see almost every night. There's a kernel of hope.”
“The reaction of people (is) giving me a lot of strength,” said Kogut’s mother, Irena, a Polish immigrant. “And that means I'm not alone with Patryk. And Patryk is not alone.”