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NEW LIFE AFTER THEFT

A Louisiana family moves here for a fresh start, but a stolen purse leaves them counting on the kindness of strangers.

They rolled into Florida on a Greyhound bus, 26 hours from Louisiana, a man and a woman and two little boys. They checked into a cheap motel and walked across the bridge to Clearwater Beach.

It was late afternoon. The stroller's wheels sank in the sand, so they left it up by the road, hiding the woman's purse under a T-shirt, and they took the boys down to the water.

The man came back for a cigarette and the purse was gone. He started crying.

Nearly all their money was in there, and most of their important documents. Now they were in a new state, trying to start a new life, and they had nothing.

But over the next two weeks, Brandy and Christopher Kneisley found sustenance in a series of kind acts by people they had never previously met.

This story comes from interviews with the Kneisleys, as well as two people who helped them, and a sheriff's incident report.

The Kneisleys left Bossier City, La., because work was scarce. Christopher, 35, landscapes and paints and does construction. He had lived in Pasco County before, and he was sure he could find a job here.

Brandy's purse contained nearly $500 in cash, plus birth certificates, IDs and Social Security cards. They reported it stolen to the Clearwater Police Department. They stayed the night in the motel, because it was already paid for. And then they started walking north along U.S. 19. Brandy, 28, carried Jacob, 1, while Christopher hauled the stroller that contained Joshua, an irrepressible 5-year-old, with their possessions hitched on.

This was July 19. They had reached Tarpon Springs when a woman they didn't know stopped, picked them up and drove them to Sun Coast Baptist Church in New Port Richey. From there, a church member put them up at the River Side Inn.

People from other churches pitched in when the family asked for help. A man from a Methodist church in Hudson gave Christopher a bike. Through Regency Baptist in Port Richey, they met Judi Mangas, who gave the Kneisleys clothes and toys and books. Church members paid for the family to stay at the Comfort Inn in Port Richey.

Later, the Sheriff's Office gave them groceries and a Wal-Mart gift card.

Christopher, unable to get work because of not having an ID, went out to look for work again Wednesday. He found none. The family is not sure where they will stay tonight. But Joshua's spirits were high.

HOW TO HELP

A family in need

Anyone who wants to help the Kneisley family can call them at (727) 863-3336 and ask for Room 132. Unless something changes, they'll have to check out by 2 p.m. today.

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