The call reporting a stolen vehicle came in to the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia on Jan. 8 — and whoever took the truck also stole birthday presents for a girl turning 2 the next day.
Deputy S. W. Martin, a seven-year employee with the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office, jumped on the case.
Whitney Edwards, an Amherst resident and mom of three, had just bought a scooter and ball pit for her daughter Alyza Tyree’s second birthday.
After leaving the store with the gifts, Edwards realized she forgot to buy wrapping paper, so she stopped at another store on the way home. Parking along the side of the building in a crowded parking lot, Edwards left her keys in the truck for a few minutes to make her purchase. When she came back outside with her daughter and the wrapping paper, her vehicle was gone.
“Didn’t think it was a big deal; small-town Amherst. I was right there and coming right back,” Edwards said. “I immediately called 911. He (Martin) was the officer that responded. We went over everything that happened, and I was just stressed. I was not hysterical, but I was definitely shedding some tears about all of her (Alyza’s) stuff being taken.”
Martin took Edwards’ statement and spoke with a few other witnesses. An initial search for the stolen vehicle in the county launched immediately but yielded nothing.
As he stayed at work after hours to complete the incident report, Martin could not forget about the child whose birthday was approaching and who had just lost her presents to a crime.
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Martin contacted his lieutenant to ask if it would be professionally appropriate to purchase replacement birthday gifts for Alyza with his own money. Permission was granted, and Martin got to work on his special errand.
“That afternoon, me and my girlfriend went to Walmart. I picked up a few Disney ‘Frozen’ toys, and coloring books and stickers and stuff. Just stuff a 2-year-old most likely would like,” Martin said.
Edwards said Martin called the next day to check in with the family.
“We let them know that we were able to get her (Alyza’s) party and her presents redone, but he said that he had gone out and got her a little something, that he wanted to make sure her birthday was still special. He asked us to bring her up to the station,” Edwards said.
Alyza and her parents went to the station the following Monday. There, the girl was presented with Martin’s surprise gifts plus a card signed by all the officers at the department.
One of the gifts was a “Frozen”-themed ball pit — an exact replacement of one of the items stolen with the vehicle, Edwards said.
Edwards’ vehicle was recovered by law enforcement in South Carolina on Jan. 10, after being involved in an accident. Edwards said its contents were missing, and her damaged vehicle will have to be replaced.
In the midst of a stressful situation, Martin’s act of kindness provided a balm.
Martin’s captain and supervisor, Major Eric Elliot, said the department is “very proud” of Martin.
“He’s a very good officer that’s willing to go the extra mile to get his job done,” Elliot said.
For Martin, providing birthday gifts for Alyza as he worked to locate the stolen vehicle seemed simply the right thing to do.
“I put myself in Ms. Edwards’ position and thought, if this was my car and it was my child’s birthday tomorrow, I would really hope that someone would help us out,” Martin said. “I know that it’s hard, especially with the times we’re having right now. It just felt like something I needed to do.”
Edwards said she and her family are grateful for Martin’s gesture.
“I don’t think that he’ll ever get enough recognition for just stepping outside of his job and doing something to make the situation better,” she said. “It’s just a small gesture that made all the difference.”