It took five years for Susan Torrie's son Robert Jarecsni, who has autism, to gain the confidence to take the bus to and from work alone.
Now a "pretty despicable" scam has threatened that independence and robbed him of two weeks pay.
"I'm angry that this happened," she said, "and I'm angry that he was taken advantage of."
It happened nearly three weeks ago, as Jarecsni was getting off the bus at the Rideau Centre at 9 p.m. — two women cut him off and asked for money for a fictitious charity.
"He said 'no' and tried to keep walking, but one of the women stopped him," described Torrie.
Then one of the women ramped up their plea, telling Jarecsni that this is an emergency and "children are in need."
"She manoeuvred him towards the bank machine, got him to put in his PIN, and as soon as he put in his PIN, she moved him out of the way and emptied his bank account."
'He was targeted'
Torrie knew almost at once that something was wrong, because she's able to track her son and his bank transactions using her phone.
When Jarecsni got home, he struggled to explain what had happened.
"I think that he was targeted because he has a disability," Torrie said, although she's unsure if this was premeditated or a crime of opportunity.
Torrie said she was hesitant to come forward because she's concerned about exposing Jarecsni's vulnerabilities.
"But the flip side of that is that when these things are allowed to continue on in the shadows and people aren't talking about it and aren't being made alert to it they're going to continue to happen."
Police looking for public's help
Yesterday, Ottawa Police reached out to the public for help in the case.
The ATM at the Rideau Centre didn't capture the robbery, but police were able to pull photographs of a "person of interest" from the mall's security camera.
Const. Marc Soucy isn't aware of any other potential victims, but said he "wouldn't be surprised" if there are others.
The idea that there could be other vulnerable victims is another reason why Torrie decided she had to come forward.
"For us, Robert has a pretty impressive support circle around him," Torrie said. "But, I think there's a lot of vulnerable people who don't have that, where perhaps this type of thing happens without it being noticed."
Jarecsni won't give up independence
Torrie says the incident brought into question the five years of "bus training" her son went through to feel self-assured enough to ride to and from his jobs at a local restaurant and coffee shop.
"It really shook our confidence too and the work we've done to support Robert's independence."
But there was no way Jarecsni's family was willing to let this situation strip him of the freedom he's gained.
"He has continued to go to work on the bus," she explained.
"He's figured out a new bus route because he's afraid to come to the Rideau Centre."