PLAINWELL, Mich. (WOOD) —The family of the man who allegedly robbed an Allegan County bank say he was not violent, had no criminal record and had lived a successful life.
But a combination of a lifelong fight with alcoholism, the sudden loss of his job and a re-occurring brain tumor pushed him past rock bottom.
Suspect Paul Donnelly is a 50-year-old native of Jackson Michigan and an Eastern Michigan University graduate who had worked for many years as a successful accountant before moving to Key West, where he was the controller for a newspaper there.
“He was very lost and very, very sick,” said Jackie Donnelly, the younger sister of the man police say robbed the PNC Bank in Plainwell around 11 a.m. Thursday.
It was a shock for the town of less than 4,000 when streets were closed and buildings cleared out as police worked to determine if a backpack left behind by the robber indeed contained a bomb as he claimed on a note given to the teller.
The backpack was harmless and police released several clear photos of the robber to the media.
Laura Austin’s husband, George, is the suspect’s cousin and was the best man in his wedding. They were expecting to see Paul Donnelly Thursday, but he never made it there.
As soon as family saw the photos, they called authorities.
He walked almost eight miles from where the crime occurred and was arrested walking on US-131, south of the Martin exit.
Police say he had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 — three times the legal definition of drunk.
He had stolen more than $4,700 and had spent about $300 on lottery tickets, police said.
“We knew this has to be a cry for help and we had to help him right away,” Laura Austin said. “This is out of character for something he would do.”
The family says Paul Donnelly is basically a good man although he is unconventional.
“He struggled with alcohol addiction his entire life, has been in and out of rehab a few times, but also had many, many great years where he was sober and he was very, very successful,” said Jackie Donnelly.
His success ended in March when he was fired from his job as the controller of the Key West Citizen and was escorted out of the office by police, according to a competing paper, the Florida Keys Keynoter, a subsidy of the Miami Herald.
“He lost his job, he lost his health insurance, his girlfriend, so he pretty much didn’t have anything left he thought he could live for,” his sister said.
He came to Plainwell to visit his cousin who had been the best man in his wedding, but the family says he never made it there.
He had been telling his family that he did not have the money to pay for his health care and he did not want to be a burden on his family.
“He was desperate, he was desperate for money and he was desperate for help and he didn’t know how else to get it,” said Jackie Donnelly. “He didn’t want to be a burden on his family and he was trying to find a way out, I believe.”
Now, Paul Donnelly is in federal custody facing a potential life sentence.
“We hope he gets help,” the sister said. “We hope he gets better.”