CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP/The Loop)- Have you ever received a Facebook message from someone you don’t know? For UTC senior Ryan Van Winkle, during March of 2012, someone from New York kept sending him the message “Hey”.
“For a while I didn’t respond to him,” Van Winkle said, “I do not know anyone farther north than Kentucky so I was sure this kid from New York was just some weirdo.”
But time passed and eventually curiosity got the best of Ryan.
“One night I was sitting with friends in my basement on the computer and the kid messaged me again. One of my friends told me to message him back and see what he wants to get rid of him. So I did. I sent ‘Hey man watsup’.”
Minutes later, Van Winkle received a message that read: ‘I think I’m your brother.’
Van Winkle said, “The entire basement went pretty quiet when we all read that.”
The kid from New York was named Marcus Costello, and after talking that night both Ryan and Marcus figured out have they same father; who neither had seen since they were very young. The mutual grandmother who lives with Marcus in New York knew of Ryan and told Marcus to try to find him on the internet.
“We talked consistently for the next few weeks,” Van Winkle said,”It was strange how similar Marcus and I were even though we grew up so differently.”
Ryan eventually learned of a whole new family he had never met. Marcus then offered Ryan an invitation to their family reunion in South Carolina that summer.
Van Winkle said, “At first I was hesistant because I had no idea who these people were or what they thought of me. There was just a lot of doubt in my mind as to how they would accept me.”
Ryan put his fears aside, however, and made the trip to South Carolina to meet this new family.
“It could not have gone better,” Ryan says, with a smile on his face, “As soon as I walked in I wasn’t a stranger, I was family.”
Ryan has kept in touch with Marcus and has grown a strong relationship with the rest of the family. His new grandmother has become an important part of Ryan’s life and has a finance internship set up for him this summer in Philadelphia.
“It’s really amazing”, Ryan says, “She has the exact career that I want and is going to help put me on the path to my dream job. It is hard to believe this time last year I didn’t know she existed.”