Online sleuthing leads to recovery of stolen camera

A stolen camera used for a Facebook live stream has been returned to its owner after online sleuths tracked down the church that unknowingly bought it off Kijiji.

'I was browsing through Reddit and saw a thumbnail that looked really, oddly familiar'

A stolen camera sold on Kijiji to an Alberta church triggered an automatic livestream that alerted the camera's owner. Reddit investigators took it from there. (Stirling Donnelly/

It was a conclusion fit for the holiday season: a stolen camera returned to its rightful owner, and a replacement gifted to the church that had unknowingly purchased the stolen item on Kijiji.

Stirling Donnelly is a Calgary DJ and live streaming enthusiast. A couple of months ago, he fell in love with a camera, a Mevo, that is perfect for the job.

"It was just something new that I was trying, so I saved up some money and purchased the camera," Donnelly told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday.

One night in October, he was moving his DJ equipment from the car and into the garage after a gig. He accidentally left his new Mevo camera, worth about $1,000 with all the accessories, in a bag leaning against the outside of the garage, and it was stolen.

"It was completely my fault. I felt so stupid about it."

Fortunately, however, he had synched that camera with a Facebook page he runs to automatically go live when it's activated.

Stirling Donnelly bought a new camera for livestreaming. It was stolen. One night while scrolling through his phone, he noticed a livestream on a Facebook account he owns. (Michael Benz)

Donnelly reported the incident to Calgary police on Oct. 24.

Then one night, while scrolling through his phone, he noticed a live stream had been published to his Facebook page on Nov. 15.

"You could faintly hear voices. You couldn't see any faces, but it was just a still image of a church," he said.

So he posted the mystery to Facebook, which was then shared to another social media platform, Reddit.

That's where Andrew Brysiuk, a Stettler Alliance Church member who runs Facebook live streams of the church's sermons, saw it.

Stettler is about 230 kilometres northeast of Calgary.

A screenshot of the Reddit post that connected a stolen camera with its owner after a church purchased it on Kijiji. (

"I was browsing through Reddit and saw a thumbnail that looked really oddly familiar," Brysiuk told CBC News.

"Popped it open, and sure enough it was looking right at the front of our church. I instantly recognized it, because it was right from the sound booth where we set up that camera that we had bought, in what turned out to be too good of a deal, off of Kijiji."

Brysiuk said the church, which has 150 members, had limited funds. After a couple of months of research, they found what they were looking for on Kijiji, a buy-and-sell website.

Andrew Brysiuk, a member and sound technician with the Stettler Alliance Church, says he recognized a screenshot posted to Reddit and realized the church has accidentally purchased a stolen camera off of Kijiji. (Submitted by Andrew Brysiuk)

"We started getting into Facebook streaming, which has been really successful for us, but we were originally just using an iPad taped to a tripod. The quality was pretty rough, people couldn't hear very well online," Brysiuk said.

"We decided to go with something a little better."

The church paid about $400 to $500 for the camera with all the bells and whistles.

When Brysiuk realized what had happened, he shared it on Reddit and with his pastor.

"The silver lining is, of course, we can make things right and be a good example for everyone out there," Brysiuk said of the church's response.

"I guess we are going back to the iPad strapped to the tripod."

But the theft victim was having none of that. Donnelly set up a crowdfunding campaign to replace the church's camera.

'This isn't right, we can make it right'

It turns out, however, that campaign won't be needed because late Tuesday, Donnelly told CBC News that the camera manufacturer learned of the incident and has agreed to replace the church's Kijiji-purchased camera, with all the accessories.

Brysiuk said the crowdfunded donations will be returned in a happy ending for everyone involved.

"Even when there are bad actors in the world, there are still people out there willing to come forward and say, 'This isn't right, we can make it right.'"

Police are following up with the Stettler Alliance Church to see if they can track down who sold the camera to them on Kijiji.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and CBC's Sarah Lawrynuik and Sarah Rieger