Ron Strang wasn't thinking about himself when he volunteered to host a superhero-themed birthday party for a near-stranger's family in February.
He was thinking about the little time he thought 6-year-old Dorian Layton, a Casper boy with brain cancer, had left to live. A band played and a motorcycle group escorted Dorian from the Eastridge Mall in Casper to Strang's restaurant, the Black Gold Grille. The whole event was heavily advertised on Facebook.
About 300 people packed the restaurant shoulder-to-shoulder for the party, Strang said.
It was a surprise, then, when Strang received a call from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations, which began looking into the Layton family in February. Since the birthday party, Dorian's mother, Krishelle Layton, 31, has been charged with defrauding the community of roughly $7,000 — the amount she received since Dorian's story first made news in December. Authorities claim Dorian's cancer is not as life-threatening as Layton says it is; Layton says she has been truthful since the start.
For Strang, a big concern is whether the pending fraud charges will harden the heart of the community that rallied to support Dorian, regardless of the criminal case's outcome.
"Don't let this deter anybody from helping out in the future," he said.
That won't happen, according to several Casper residents who volunteered their time and efforts to help Dorian Layton earlier this year.
Travis O'Brien, a local oil field machinist and motorcycle enthusiast, volunteered to help Dorian mark an item off his "bucket list" after hearing that Dorian gave gifts to sick children in the emergency room at Wyoming Medical Center on Christmas Eve.
"He touched my heart with his story," O'Brien said. "It was just, go from there to help him live his life out, what little he had at that point."
O'Brien contacted the Layton family on Facebook to congratulate Dorian. He volunteered to give Dorian his first motorcycle ride, one of the items on the child's list, which was widely circulated on social media and by a local radio station.
"To me it was an honor to be able to grant one of his wishes," O'Brien said. "At least one."
In the end, Layton chose to let Dorian ride another motorcycle. Plans for a simple motorcycle ride escalated into a poker run and motorcycle rally catered by a local Qdoba franchise, with funds going toward the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
O'Brien called the poker run off after Dorian received his first motorcycle ride elsewhere, long before Layton was arrested on fraud charges, he said.
"There’s no gain for me other than I feel good because I did something to help out," O'Brien said. "I would do it for anybody."
A superhero blanket lay on the bed Krishelle Layton is saving for Dorian at their new house in Paradise Valley on Thursday afternoon.
Dorian, 6, has lived away from his mother since Feb. 26, according to a police affidavit. Dorian's brother Julien, 9, has also been placed in protective care, Layton said. The family has since moved from a camper trailer to a home in Paradise Valley, thanks to a voucher Layton secured through the local Veterans Affairs affiliate, Layton said.
Layton, a Casper native, is a single mother.
She dated each of her three children's fathers for several months before getting pregnant, but she never married. She never flew a mission in the year she spent with the U.S. Air Force before leaving on account of a shoulder injury. She worked variously as a television production assistant, a hotel night clerk, a resort reservationist, a car salesman — jobs she mostly held for less than a year. After months of classes at Casper College, she does not have a degree.
It's not exactly how she hoped her life would turn out, she said.
But she says she wouldn't change a thing.
Layton was out on bond Thursday afternoon with her mother and 2-year-old daughter, Vivien. Her family paid the $2,000 price tag to let her out of jail after she was arrested on fraud charges May 13. None of the roughly $7,000 in community donations remains.
Several inconsistencies remain between Layton's story and the state's.
Dorian's doctor in Texas, Michael Rytting, reportedly told a Casper charity organization that Dorian's cancer was not growing. Aside from annual brain scans, the 6-year-old could have a normal childhood, Rytting told the organization in an email provided to the Star-Tribune by Layton. He said he did not know who instructed the family to move to Wyoming, the email stated.
The Laytons, however, told the Star-Tribune they discussed going home with Rytting, and that Rytting knew the family was not native to Texas.
Since Feb. 26, when Dorian was taken from Layton's custody, none of the various medical symptoms that Layton attributed to Dorian's tumor have been observed to be ongoing, Layton's arrest affidavit states.
Layton said that's not possible.
She says she will likely seek a public defender for the fraud charges pending against her.
'In a heartbeat'
When nighttime temperatures dipped dramatically below 0 in and around Casper in February, former Police Chief Chris Walsh asked the Layton family to move in with him.
It was freezing, and Walsh had just heard the Laytons' pipes froze in the camper trailer where the family was living.
"I had the room, so that's why I invited," Walsh said.
The Laytons stayed with Walsh for about two weeks, until they left late on Feb. 14 after Walsh reportedly asked Layton about seeing a doctor in Casper, according to court documents filed at the time of Layton's arrest.
Walsh knows fraud charges are pending against Layton.
It hasn't lessened his instinct to help others, he said.
Strang, the restaurant owner, said the same.
"Would I do it again? Yeah," Strang said. "In a heartbeat."
Ideally, he would have researched the family's situation more. But considering the sensitive nature of medical information, especially for children, that could have been nearly impossible, he said.
"When I look at the end result, the young man had fun," he said. "The young man experienced something that he probably never will in his life."
To Strang, that's gratitude enough.