He received her $1,200 birthday gift by mistake. What he did next inspired others

Alan Trusler, left, sent his daughter Melissa $1,200 for her birthday via PayPal. Unfortunately, he sent the money to someone else.
Alan Trusler, left, sent his daughter Melissa $1,200 for her birthday via PayPal. Unfortunately, he sent the money to someone else. Staff photo illustration

Gerrell McAllister woke up May 25 to an email with the subject line “You’ve got money!”

He thought it was a joke until he noticed it was from PayPal. The 28-year-old Tacoma father opened the email and saw $1,200 was deposited in his PayPal account.

“You know how in the movies the person will open the briefcase, discover it’s full of money and then quickly shut it and look around to make sure no one was watching?” McAllister said via email. “Yeah, I definitely did that and I was definitely alone when it happened.”

What McAllister didn’t know — and definitely didn’t expect — was that his next action would inspire others and prove to be worth more than $1,200.

As McAllister pondered his good luck, a 29-year-old Seattle woman couldn’t believe her misfortune.

Melissa Trusler’s dad, Alan of Colville, had just attempted to send her $1,200 via PayPal as a birthday present. She planned to use it to buy a gray sectional sofa with recliners and USB ports for her new home. Then her dad called.

“He said, ‘I accidentally sent the money to somebody else,’” Trusler said.

PayPal allows users to send money using the recipients email or phone number. Trusler’s dad used her new cellphone number, which happened to be McAllister’s old number. McAllister had yet to update his PayPal account.

Trusler scrambled to find a solution to the problem. She sifted through the PayPal website looking for a resolution. She found a page stating that customers should try to solve the issue on their own.

As she pondered her next move, her dad got a PayPal notification. McAllister had returned the money.

Mistake to refund covered less than 30 minutes, Trusler said. She sent McAllister a thank you note. His response moved her.

“You’re so very welcome!” McAllister wrote. “But if you could tell your family and friends that a low income 28 year old Black man from Tacoma with a 5 year old daughter returned your money, I would find that helpful in improving race relations while reaffirming the dope ass culture we as Western Washingtonians have worked so hard to cultivate. And that, in turn, would help me to stop kicking myself in the ass for remaining morally sound through the tough times my family and I are experiencing at the moment, lol. In short, share the story, spread the love. Thank You.”

This is precisely what Trusler did. She posted his comment on Reddit and Facebook along with information about how to give money to McAllister via PayPal.

McAllister does not regret his decision.

“Why did I immediately return it?” he said via email. “Because my mom taught me better than to take what isn’t rightfully mine. She taught me to always try my best to do the right thing even if no one’s watching ... a little thing called integrity. Why should I make someone else suffer just to ‘get ahead’? What does that do in the grand scheme of things? It keeps the destructive cycle going. I’d rather not contribute to that. Thank my mom.”

McAllister’s mom died Dec. 5, 2016, because of a pulmonary embolism. She was 63 and McAllister’s older brother, Mario Small, said the loss has been especially hard on him. “My mom would be so proud of him for his actions and I couldn’t be any more proud of him,” Small said in a Facebook message to Trusler.

“She raised us to be tenacious,” McAllister said. “Losing a parent is much different and much more difficult than any other loss. The beauty behind it that I’ve discovered thus far is that you gain a broader perspective of yourself and others unique to those who have suffered the same loss. Another tool we can use to help unify our communities.”

McAllister has a 5-year-old daughter, Lily, who he calls “the definition of love because I never knew what it truly meant until I met her.”

The story of his love for his mom and daughter and his integrity has since spread across the internet. One person posted on Facebook that she shared the story with her “wax lady” and that she cried and donated $100 to McAllister.

“I guarantee you he’s received more money now than he would have if he kept the money,” Trusler said. “... I think people are overwhelmed by his goodness. You just don’t expect a stranger to send the money back.”

Not that McAllister, who works at a Tacoma pet food retailer, would know at this point.

“To be completely honest, I haven’t checked my PayPal account since May 25th, the same day this all happened,” McAllister said. “I’m far too overwhelmed by the generosity. I’ve also been receiving very heartwarming messages along with a majority of the donations and I don’t want the money to dilute the intent.”

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627, @KennyOcker