LAPD Officers presented Marie O'Brien, 93, with a second birthday cake and money after her purse was stolen during her birthday dinner last weekend.
Friday the 13th has long been associated with black cats, hockey-mask wearing slashers and bad luck. But for one Long Beach woman, today brought some good fortune and perhaps a restoration of faith in humanity.
After having her purse stolen during her 93rd birthday dinner last Saturday, Marie O'Brien was presented with over $1,200 raised through a public fundraising effort by members of her family and the Los Angeles Police Department.
O'Brien, who turned 93 on November 3, was presented with the money by Maureen Ryan, a commanding officer in the LAPD's Topanga area and Senior Liaison Officer Duc Dao, who took up the matter after her family reported the theft. The incident had occurred at a Woodland Hills restaurant during O'Brien's birthday celebration November 7.
During a surprise ceremony at the Long Beach Senior Center, O'Brien was led into a conference room where the officers, four of her grandchildren and a gift basket containing the money and a birthday cake waited for her. The cake came at the suggestion of Dao, who knew that the theft had left O'Brien too upset to enjoy her birthday cake that night.
"I can't believe all this," O'Brien said as she fought back tears when Ryan presented her with the money.
Aside from about a $100 in cash and gift cards, O'Brien's stolen purse also contained pictures of one of her sons who had passed away and her deceased husband's veteran's identification card. Kelly Callirgos, one of O'Brien's grandchildren who helped organize the gofundme effort, said it was also the loss of things like her checkbook, social security card and prescriptions—daily necessities for her grandmother—that upset her the most.
"I think it was more of the panic to lose everything that she uses daily like her car keys to come here everyday, to pick up her friends," Callirgos said. "Her apartment keys were gone and she had no idea how she would get into her apartment, and she doesn't have a phone to call anyone."
Callirgos said that without Dao's suggestion, she'd probably never have thought to turn to a crowdfunding effort to help recover some of her grandmother's belongings. The less-than-week-long effort drew in about $1,200 from over 20 donations from friends, family and even strangers.
"When I talked to Marie she told me she cries at night," Dao said. "So obviously something had to be done. Hope had to be restored. So I continued with the mission and reached out to Kelly. We’re so grateful to be where we’re at right now."
Callirgos said that the effort will go a long way toward doing just that.
"I think it's really going to renew her joy and sense of peace," Callirgos said. "Having your personal items stolen right from you, right from the back of your chair on your birthday is just very upsetting."
O'Brien has volunteered at the senior center since 2002, following the death of her husband, Daniel. This year the 93-year-old was awarded as the volunteer of the year for the center. Her family says that O'Brien still drives herself, picking up some of the seniors who go to the center on her way there. She does it because "she's there to take care of the old people," said one of her grandchildren.
Ryan said Dao brought the story to her attention because he was so touched by what had happened to O'Brien. Looking at her photo made her think of her own mother, who had recently passed away, and how she would've felt if her mother had been victimized like O'Brien was.
"Sometimes stories just tug at your heart strings and reaching out through social media, it was amazing the comments and the willingness to help, it was immediate," Ryan said. "It restores our faith in human kind that people want to do the right thing when it's brought to their attention."
She noted that the purse was recovered yesterday, but all of the cash and gift cards that were inside were gone. The officers reached out to the restaurant, which invited the family back for a second birthday dinner celebration that would be on the house.
As for the person who stole the purse, Ryan said if the suspect would like to do the right thing, they could put the cash and cards in an envelope and drop it at the Topanga station, and they'd make sure O'Brien got her property back.
When asked what she was going to do with all the money raised for her, O'Brien responded quickly and with a smile.
"We're going to have lunch," she said.