PALO ALTO, Calif. – A Bay Area Marine veteran who recently had his home and nearly everything he owned robbed has been working to get back on his feet, after the robbery set off a series of unfortunate events and challenges.
Last month, Johnny Wilson said he returned home from a trip to find his small, self-designed mobile home had been stolen from its parking spot in Palo Alto.
The 35-year-old vet said he contacted the police and filed a theft complaint, but he said “the damage is already done”. And he ended up with this question to the thieves: “For what?”
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Beyond the loss of his home, thieves took almost anything and everything of value from him – from his old Marine Corps uniforms to his medals, and perhaps the hardest thing to recover: his identify.
“My whole life has been spent in my little house – from my SSN card, my birth certificate and my tax documents, to even some of my sentimental things like my old uniforms and campaign medals,” Wilson said. in his GoFundMe page, noting because his social security number and other personal information was taken, “For an added kick, I am currently dealing with identity theft issues.”
Johnny Wilson reported his converted tiny house theft in Palo Alto on April 2, 2022. (Johnny Wilson/GoFundMe)
After buying the 7-by-16-foot cargo trailer with cash, he slowly worked on the vehicle to make it a home.
The vet reported that he left his house parked in the 3800 block of Fabian Way for about a week while he went on vacation. And when he came back on April 2, it was gone. Police told KTVU that the trailer remains unresolved and investigators have not received any new leads in the case.
Wilson said he was crushed.
“…almost everything I own has been stolen from me. Imagine coming home to find your house destroyed by fire or some other weather event and having to come out of nowhere – that’s where I find myself today,” Wilson said, noting that he doesn’t even have insurance to help him recoup his losses.
Wilson, a Missouri native, came to Southern California after graduating from high school to join the Marines. He served from 2006 to 2010 and was deployed twice: first to Iraq, then another tour on a ship in the Pacific.
After retiring from the Marines, he finds himself in the Bay Area, drafted into the College of San Mateo and earned an associate’s degree in general engineering technology.
This landed him a job as a calibration technician at a Bay Area environmental technology company. With the cost of housing so high, Wilson found his converted trailer was the solution to his housing needs.
“While not much, it did the job and provided me with a place to sleep and stay out of the weather,” he said.
Following the robbery of his house, he was forced to sleep in his truck for about a week.
He said he then fell ill, tested positive for COVID-19 and had to recover in a more comfortable environment, so he checked into a hotel for a few weeks.
Prior to the entire ordeal, Wilson said he filed his resignation notice at his current workplace, after landing a job at a new company.
But the effects of the flight hampered his plans. As the new position was about to be finalized, the company rescinded his job offer, he told KTVU. Due to the thieves stealing his identity, Wilson discovered that his personal information was a mess and his background check for the new position was unsuccessful. He was forced to freeze his credit to prevent further damage.
He then rushed to try to keep his current job. He returned to his employer, explained the situation to him and asked to return to his job, which the company eventually accepted.
“I called them on a Thursday, and my last day was supposed to be this Friday,” Wilson explained. “I’m especially lucky to have this job,” he said gratefully.
The hardships he faced taught him to be deeply grateful for all he still has, and the experience also brought a renewed “half-glass-full” perspective.
“Fortunately, I still have my job and my truck, so I can still support myself,” Wilson said. And he said he was counting on her blessings for that suitcase he took on his pre-flight trip, which provided him with clothes and other immediate necessities.
As for the uniforms and metals he lost: “Everything can be replaced,” the vet said, noting that he was working with a friend in the US Department of Veterans Affairs who helped him obtain copies of his military service records in an effort to replace stolen papers and his lost medals.
He recognized, however, that some things were gone forever and could never be replaced. “The nostalgia when it was given to me, I can’t go back,” Wilson said.
He also humorously noted that the silver linings were everywhere. “I had clothes, I was hoping [eventually] get back to it – military uniforms, I hoped to lose weight. Now I don’t have to deal with that anymore,” he joked, adding, “It’s really easy to move, because I don’t have to move anything.”
But as positive as he tried to be, as the beatings kept coming, and said he got to a point where he felt he just couldn’t take a break.
“I was out of everything I could do mentally and physically,” he said, noting that he realized “something has to change.”
And that’s what prompted him to set up his GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $20,000. He said it was a rough estimate to cover the loss of the trailer, as well as any stolen property inside the house, including valuable construction tools.
Wilson said at that moment of desperation he thought, “Anything will help at this point.”
The cry for help gave the ex-serviceman a fresh start and got him off the streets. Wilson used some of the donations to secure a room to rent in San Leandro for temporary housing. As of Monday, the GoFundMe had raised over $9,600.
But her main goal now was to have her own place again. “Any money you can share with me will go towards finding me a new home,” he said, “whether it’s to build a new little house, buy something that’s already habitable, or help pay for the rent if I can find a place in this terrible housing market.”
Wilson admitted it was very difficult to ask for help, but said he knew he had to swallow his pride if he was to get back on his feet.
“I’m not one to ask for help; as a Navy veteran, I’ve always tried to be willing to give it my all to help others,” Wilson said, adding, “but I hope my community can help me.”
Wilson’s GoFundMe can be found here.