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Grieving metro Atlanta parents desperate to find their late son's military dog tags

He served in Afghanistan and died after his return from war. Now Sgt. Ryan McDonnell's parents are desperate to find his dog tags and hoping to raise awareness about addition.

"It's all I want for Christmas," his dad Dan McDonnell said.




Ryan McDonnell, who was 24, served in Afghanistan with the Georgia National Guard.

"Ryan was pretty awesome," his dad said. "He was my oldest. He was the guy that made everybody laugh."

He returned from Afghanistan in January 2014 and died in May after a heroin overdose. While abroad, Ryan had an appendectomy and was put on pain medication. When he returned home he developed chronic neck pain, which he treated with pain pills and muscle relaxers. Apparently he escalated to harder drugs.

"It’s important to me that people don’t think he was some kind of bum," said Dan McDonnell, who's now part of an advocacy group trying to raise awareness. Ryan's friends and girlfriend had no idea of his substance abuse problem, he added.

"Addition is a disease," he said. "The face of heroin has changed so much. It could be your next-door neighbor’s mother."

He's been wearing Ryan's dog tags everywhere and thinks the irreplaceable item slipped of at the Dec. 5 Christmas parade in downtown Holly Springs. "I took off my sweatshirt and that’s where I think I lost it."

After his wife, Robin Nunnally McDonnell, posted a heartbreaking message to public social-media platforms, local officials got busy trying to help. The Woodstock Police Department has been trying to retrace Dan McDonnell's steps in the hopes of finding Ryan's dog tags.

"Our Public Works Department walked the parade route multiple times, checked all parking lots, and went through the street sweeper with a metal detector yesterday," the department posted this week. "Efforts will continue today. It is our hope that these dog tags, which are believed to be lost in either Woodstock or Holly Springs, can be found and returned."

The department asks for everyone's help. You can call  770-592-6030, option 7, if you can help Sgt. McDonnell's dog tags find their way home.

Says his mom: "Thank you for all you are doing to help us look for these."

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About the Author

Jennifer Brett is a multiplatform journalist and digital coach. She writes The Buzz blog for

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