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Dante Brennan’s path out of the woods ended at a Taco Bell in Waldorf.

In June, the Maryland Independent ran a picture of Brennan with an article on homelessness in the region that identified Brennan as a resident of La Plata’s “tent city,” a group of 10 or so homeless men and women who had set up camp adjacent to the Walmart.

In the photograph, Brennan is the picture of despondency. He is pictured with his head down, arms folded across his chest. A few empty alcohol containers surround him on the ground around the dirty plastic lawnchair he sits in.

This is the picture that was sent to his niece, Amanda Baldwin, and the picture that spurred her to come looking for him.

“Someone sent me a message on Facebook wondering if the man in the article was my uncle, and so I had them send it my way so I could see for myself,” Baldwin said. “When I saw it was him, I couldn’t believe it. I absolutely broke down crying at work.”

Prior to reading the article, Baldwin said she had not seen her uncle in five years and was unaware if he was even alive, let alone where he was. Once she saw his picture, Baldwin said she knew she had to make the drive from her Havre de Grace home to Charles County to attempt to reunite with him.

Following an email and a series of phone calls between a reporter and another homeless resident and friend of Brennan’s, Vincent “Wise” Walker, Brennan and Baldwin were reunited outside a Waldorf Taco Bell.

It was a tearful reunion for the estranged family members. Although Brennan was hesitant at first, he ultimately agreed to accompany Baldwin back to Havre de Grace.

“This is my family too, I can’t just leave them,” Brennan said of his fellow tent city residents. “We’ve been looking out for each other; they need me here to help them.”

Following some reassurance from Walker that they’d get along fine without him, Brennan said his goodbyes and he and Baldwin made the drive to her home, where he was able to enjoy time with his family for the first time in ages.

Since the reunion three weeks ago, Brennan has since moved once more. His cousin, Cindy Cotton of Normal, Ill., reached out to the Independent to inform a reporter that Brennan is living with her there and is “doing quite well,” Cotton said in her followup email.

Since they were separated, Walker said he, Brennan and their friend Michelle Cook have spoken on the phone almost daily. Now that Brennan has left, the camp is down to just him and Cook.

“Our luck’s been OK but it’s not been the same without him,” Walker said. “He sounds like he’s doing well, but we miss having him around and I know he misses us.”

“It’s kind of hard ... but we know [Brennan] needed to be with his family,” Cook added. “It’s just sad without him.”

Other challenges also have arisen for Cook and Walker without Brennan: during the day, only one person remains at their camp, and Walker said he worries about leaving Cook there by herself after an incident two weeks ago where a group of teenagers taunted her and threw bottles and rocks at her.

“She called me and told me what had happened and I got to her just as fast as I could,” Walker said. “That wouldn’t have happened if [Brennan] was there.”

Walker and Cook expect to see Brennan again by the end of this month or early in October, as he has to return to Maryland for two court hearings.

lrenner@somdnews.com