A 23-year-old Canadian girl, charged with faking terminal cancer in order to coax money out of others, has been released on bail. She had said she was raising the funds for cancer support groups, but never parted with the money. The case provoked quite a sensation in the country, to some extent outside too.
Ashley Kirilow from Burlington, Ontario, is facing three counts of fraud under $5,000 and one count of fraud over $5,000.
Two previous bail hearings were scrapped because nobody showed up to be a surety for her. When she finally got bail Friday last, two weeks after turning herself in to police, it was only after John Howard Society, a nonprofit dedicated to rehabilitating prisoners, came forward to supervise her.
In late 2008, Ashley was treated in hospital for a benign lump in one of her breasts. After that procedure, she began telling people she had breast cancer.
She also said she had brain cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer and ovarian cancer, at various stages and in various combinations. She claimed to have only a few months to live.
She shaved her head and eyebrows, plucked her eyelashes and starved herself to look like a chemotherapy patient. Other photos from her now-deleted MySpace page show a wrist tattoo with the words "love," "dream," and "cure" inked into small, colourful hearts.
She even feigned disgust when she was once offered a cigarette, recalled her friend Matt Vardy.
Kirilow started up a fake charity, Change for a Cure, in September 2009. She was interviewed by Youth Are Awesome in November last year about Change for a Cure, where it was claimed that Kirilow had breast, brain and stomach cancers. Money did pour in fast.
She endeared herself to the all-ages music and skateboard scenes and befriended groups of idealistic and energetic teenagers looking for an outlet for their optimism.
They embraced Ashley's simple cause — pocket change for cancer research — and were inspired by her heartbreaking story. Teams of volunteers organized benefit concerts in her honour, designed T-shirts and made online tribute videos.
"I thought she was an angel," said Nikki Jumper, 19. "I wanted to be a friend for her because she didn't seem to have anyone."
All donations were made in cash and given directly to Ashley in rolls of coins and stuffed envelopes. Nobody asked for a receipt.
The charity was never registered and consisted of little more than a Facebook page.
Over the course of a year, Ashley convinced local businesses and small-scale music promoters to join the cause. She persuaded a legitimate Toronto-based cancer-awareness organization — led by Newmarket skateboarding heartthrob, Rob Dyer — to fly her to Disney World.
Dyer refused to be interviewed for this story, but his organization, Skate4Cancer, released a statement disavowing itself of Ashley and denying any formal or informal affiliation.
"Skate4Cancer's involvement with Ms. Kirilow was based solely on fulfilling what the organization believed to be a legitimate final wish from a terminally ill individual."
"What I did was wrong," Ashley said in her interview to Toronto Star. "I was trying to be noticed. I was trying to get my family back together. I didn't want to feel like I'm nothing anymore. It went wrong, it spread like crazy, and then it seemed like the whole world knew."
While volunteers claim she raised $20,000, she said it was less than $5,000. She does not dispute the $9,000 raised at a Burlington benefit last September, saying that money was for her personally and not connected to the charity.
"I dug myself a big hole that I couldn't get out of," Ashley said. "And there's nobody to blame but me."
She said she wanted to find a way to give all the money back.
Her dedicated followers said they were shocked, betrayed and furious.
She had told anyone she met she had been disowned by drug-addicted parents, or that they were dead.
Both parents are alive and well, each in separate marriages with three young children.
They both said they were not surprised. Since her childhood, the girl was known to have been manipulative, desperately craving for fame and using people to get what she wanted.
"She loved playing the victim," said her father, Mike Kirilow, a self-employed home renovator. "Because it gave her control over people."
He said his daughter had gone too far.
"We would love to support her, but we cannot because of the lies and basically the hell she has put us through."
For reasons not clear she stopped her scam and began growing her hair back in the spring of this year, and now complaints started pouring in. Police said, "In June 2010 the Halton Regional Police Service became aware of a woman who claimed to be suffering from cancer and fundraising for cancer charities. The woman organized various fundraisers with the assistance of several other persons who legitimately believed her to be terminally ill. An investigation by Fraud Bureau investigators with the Halton Regional Police Service has determined that the woman does not have cancer or any other life threatening illness and that funds raised were converted for her own use.
Ashley KIRLOW (sic), 23 years of age, with no fixed address turned herself into the 20 Division (Oakville) police station on August 6th and was arrested by members of the Halton Regional Police Fraud Investigation Bureau. "
Her father says it was he who had forced her to turn herself in and had treated for three weeks in a psychiatric hospital.
After a long day of delays and waiting, Ashley finally made her appearance before Justice of the Peace Jerry Woloshuk last Friday afternoon. Much of what happened during the hour-long hearing is subject to a publication ban. But the JP did acknowledge this is a case unlike any other Halton has seen.
"This is a little bit extraordinary for us, the amount of media attention, and particularly the public outrage.
"Clearly the public is outraged at the allegations that are before the court ... It's touched people. It's disturbed them."
He granted her bail. Ashley smiled. Thereafter she was spirited away by the backdoor, apparently because there were fears for her safety.
But there were some sympathizers too. One wrote, "In the grand scheme of things this impostor got many people together to raise awareness and funds for such ruthless disease. So what, the inspiration was fake but everything else was genuine. She will get what is coming to her, a loss of everyone in her life, jail time and having to pay back the spent funds to the charity they were intended for. And in turn more people have been brought together for a good cause."