Published On Fri Aug 06 2010
They all thought she was dying of cancer — and they all handed her cash.
Ashley Anne Kirilow, a 23-year-old Burlington native, admits she faked cancer, ran a bogus charity and collected thousands of dollars from hundreds of people.
She shaved her head and eyebrows, plucked her eyelashes and starved herself to look like a chemotherapy patient. She 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 say they did all they could to support their troubled child.
“What I did was wrong,” Ashley said Thursday night. “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.”
Over the last year, Ashley endeared herself to the all-ages music and skateboard scenes across the GTA 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 earlier this week 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.”
Her dedicated followers say they are shocked, betrayed and furious.
But Ashley’s parents are not surprised.
They say the latest allegations follow a pattern of behaviour since childhood, and that Ashley is manipulative, desperately craves fame and uses people to get what she wants.
“She loved playing the victim,” said her father, Mike Kirilow, a self-employed home renovator. “Because it gave her control over people.”
Late Thursday night, Ashley contacted the Star and admitted to the allegations against her, but disputed the amount of money volunteers say she raised through her charity.
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 wants to find a way to give all the money back.