Thousands of people have contributed more than $300,000 in support of a Syrian refugee known as “The Scientist,” after the popular Humans of New York (HONY) blog highlighted the man’s story and actor Edward Norton began an online fundraising campaign for him.
The Michigan-bound refugee recounted his story in a series of posts on the HONY Facebook page. The unnamed man, a PhD-holding scientist, told HONY’s Brandon Stanton that his wife, daughter, brother, and four other members of his family were killed when a Syrian government missile ripped through a housing development he himself had built for them.
“I was overseeing a project outside the city when the missile hit my house. Nobody was around to help, so my son had to carry the pieces of his mother and sister out of the house,” the refugee told HONY. “He was fourteen at the time. He was so smart. He was the top of his class. He’s not the same. Right after it happened, he’d write ‘mom’ in his notebook over and over. He’d cry all night long.”
The man said he took his remaining son and daughter and fled to Istanbul.
“We survived but we’re dead psychologically,” he said. “Everything ended for us that day. That was our destiny. That was our share in life.”
The Scientist said he recently found out he would be sent to live in Troy, Michigan, where he is hoping doctors can cure him of stomach cancer and that he still believes he “has a chance to make a difference in the world.” He said he would like to patent several ideas for inventions, including a device that could predict earthquakes and a plane that could fly for 48 hours without fuel.
The man’s story caught the attention of President Obama, who commented on the HONY post:
As a husband and a father, I cannot even begin to imagine the loss you’ve endured. You and your family are an inspiration. I know that the great people of Michigan will embrace you with the compassion and support you deserve. Yes, you can still make a difference in the world, and we’re proud that you’ll pursue your dreams here. Welcome to your new home. You’re part of what makes America great.”
The post also caught the attention of actor Edward Norton, who set up a crowdfunding campaign for the man on his website CrowdRise.
“If we don’t welcome people like this into our communities and empower his dream of making an impact with his life, then we’re not the country we tell ourselves we are,” Norton wrote in a letter accompanying the campaign. “Let’s reject the ‘anti-human’ voices that tell us to fear refugees and show this man and his family what Americans are really made of. Let’s show that a country built by the energy and dreams of immigrants still believes in brave people who come here with hope for better life.
At the time of publication, the campaign had raised more than $381,000 from 13,236 individual donors. A spokesman for Norton told the New York Daily News that the actor had contributed $1,000 to the campaign.