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Terminally-ill American robbed in Italy, pens 'open letter' forgiving thief

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By Farnoush Amiri and Claudio Lavanga  with NBC News World News
Image: Mike Veley and his wife.
Mike Veley and his wife, Kanako.   -   Copyright  Courtesy Mike Veley

After being pickpocketed while on vacation in Italy, a terminally ill American man decided to write an "open letter" to the thief — forgiving him.

Michael Veley, 60, a former law enforcement officer from Brush Prairie, Washington, had been looking forward to his trip to Europe for months. In between chemotherapy appointments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Veley and his wife, Kanako, planned a trip to Germany to see family, with stops in Italy's Venice and Florence. But as they embarked on their first day in Venice on July 14, Veley found himself without a wallet.

Mike Veley and his wife, Kanako.
Mike Veley and his wife, Kanako.Courtesy Mike Veley

"We went onto the train station to buy a boat ticket to go to San Marco and 15 minutes later, I touched my back pocket and my wallet was gone -- I became a victim of a common problem in Venice," Veley said in a phone interview with NBC News.

According to Veley, the perpetrator took 450 euros, his credit and debit card as well as his drivers license.

"I was very angry of course in the beginning. We just wanted to have a wonderful memory of what would possibly be our last trip together," Veley told NBC News on Thursday. "I began to pray about it, I asked for God to help me with the anger."

Then the retiree decided to write down his thoughts. At first, he said, it was just personal therapy for himself but later realized he wanted to put it out there.

Mike Veley was on vacation in Venice, Italy, when he was pick pocketed, so he decided to put an ad in a local newspaper in the hopes of his wallet being returned.
Mike Veley was on vacation in Venice, Italy, when he was pick pocketed, so he decided to put an ad in a local newspaper in the hopes of his wallet being returned.Courtesy Mike Veley

"I wrote an open letter titled to the person who stole my wallet and I went on to say that my wife and I came to your beautiful city to enjoy what might be our last vacation together, I became your next victim but I have gone on to pray for forgiveness and I forgive you," Veley said, paraphrasing his letter .

The father of three went to a local police station in Venice and asked police if they could circulate his note around the city, in train stations, somewhere the thief would be able to see. The officer said no but made him an alternate offer: sending it to the regional newspaper, La Nuova Venezia.

"Maybe the officer was going to throw the letter in the garbage, I didn't know what he would do with it," Veley said. "But it didn't matter, I wrote it for me."

What happened next was a complete shock to Veley and his wife of 23 years. Veley's note ended up being on the front page of the Italian-language paper and in the hours and days following its publication, the couple began to get swarmed with response letters. Some offered their best wishes, others offered money — the Office of the Mayor of Italy offered Veley and his wife a hotel stay, and a heart surgeon from Florence offered them a stay in his home.

"Quite frankly the response from the wonderful Italian people has been a little overwhelming," Veley said.

But the couple had to turn down the offers to fly back to Washington for a scheduled chemotherapy appointment.

"The memory of this trip was initially ruined, but after writing this letter the memory has now gone from anger and frustration to joy," Veley said.