When journalist Mostafa Darwish was researching an award-winning series on deaths of people in Direct Provision, he discovered that one of those who passed away was an American. His name was Thomas Stofiel, and in 2017 he had been wanted by the FBI after disappearing with his young daughter.
When we dug deeper into his past, it opened up a strange and often poignant story.
Thomas was a man with illogical and unsettling beliefs, someone often struggling with his mental health, manacled to his convictions even as his life veered off course.
Our investigation kept turning up more elements, opening more doors into his past - of his life in America, his life online, and ultimately, his time in Ireland, living as an asylum seeker in Tralee.
Thomas had a habit of going missing, he was also the proverbial lost soul. This is the story of The Lost American
In November, The Lost American was awarded Podcast of the Year at the 2022 Journalism Awards.
An American, who sought asylum in Ireland, Thomas was reported missing on October 25, 2020 while the country was in the second Covid lockdown.
Three weeks later, a local farmer herding sheep spotted something across the small valley at Tonevane on Slieve Mish. It was Thomas's body. The emergency services were immediately contacted. The scene was consistent with a man having taken his own life.
It’s believed Thomas followed a river path up the mountain. It's likely there was no plan to come back down.
But the story of how this mysterious mountain man from America ended up in a remote valley in Tralee began more than three years earlier, 4,500 miles away on a Native American reservation in Oregon, USA.
Atlas House in Tralee is an unprepossessing bundle of apartments off a side street in the Kerry town, not far from a major supermarket. Its two-tone paint is flaking off in parts.
There's little, bar some of the musical choices audible from the street and the clothes drying on the small balconies, to suggest it is home to almost 90 single male asylum seekers; people from sub-Sharan Africa, former Soviet states, the Middle East.
This is where Thomas Stofiel lived once he arrived here, unheralded, from an unknown point of origin, for reasons that are still unclear.
The series is available on podcast, with Episode 1 available here and Episode 2 available here - or wherever you get your podcasts.