Thief Breaks Into Cars, Steals Christmas Gifts From Cancer Patients at Children's Hospital

Neighbors, firefighters and cops turned into Christmas-time elves this week pitching in to replace $1,500 in toys, winter coats and gift cards stolen from a car on a quiet cul-de-sac on the northern edge of the Bay Area.

Now, ten children - two of whom are cancer patients at Children's Hospital in Oakland - will receive their toys and gifts thanks to their efforts, as Benicia police are actively trying to track down the thief.

"It's just incredible how people stepped up," Marci Moriarty, 32, of Benicia told NBC Bay Area on Tuesday. Her Honda Pilot was broken into late Sunday night or early Monday morning - her piles of gifts intended for cancer families stolen from the backseat of her car.

"I didn't ask," she said. "People did it because they wanted to."

What people did was replace the stolen gifts, with toys from the city's annual firefighting toy drive and the police department's union fundraising efforts. Moriarty's neighbors also wrote checks totaling $600 - surplus money she will donate to social workers at Children's Hospital.

The oncology department's Adopt-a-Family program began 15 years ago, when Dr. Caroline Hastings and some others identified the neediest families, and volunteers bought them gifts for the holidays. The program has grown to about 20 to 30 families each Christmas season.

Moriarty, a bone marrow transplant nursing coordinator at Children's Hospital, has been buying gifts for nearly a decade, asking her extended family to pitch in. She raised about $1,500 and over two weekends, went shopping in Walnut Creek and Roseville to buy winter clothes, jackets, toys and gift cards for ten children from two families. She wrapped the gifts Sunday night and packed them in her car.

"I live in a quiet neighborhood," she said. "I didn't think twice about it."

When she went to pull out of her driveway on James Court Monday morning, she noticed her back window was broken and the gifts were gone.

"I was shocked. I was so deflated," she said. "I didn't know how I was going to be able to get those presents again."

WATCH: Surveillance Video of Suspect Breaking Into Car

Two of her neighbors on Chadwick Court also had their cars broken into during the same time period. One home surveillance camera caught an African-American man, about 20 to 30 years old, with dreadlocks or long braids, peering into a light colored Mini with a flashlight. Neither of the homeowners on Chadwick Court had anything stolen, but Benicia police think Moriarty's break-in and the two attempted robberies are related. Since Thanksgiving, there have been six car burglaries in Benicia, including these three on Monday, according to Police Lt. Frank Hartig.

Sarah Schooley, a  police dispatcher, got wind of the news and told the fire and police departments. Both agencies stepped up to help replace the stolen gifts. Benicia Police Officers’ Association President Kevin Rose said his union members have already replaced the stolen gift cards.

And Benicia Fire Association President Todd Matthews "opened his toy barrels" to Moriarty on Monday night to pick out gifts from his department's annual Toy Drive.

"The toys are for people in need," he said. "These people met that need."

As for Moriarty, she's learned not to be so trusting of her so-called "safe" neighborhood. But all the anger she initially felt is now gone - even for the Grinch.

"Somebody that desperate is really in a bad place," she said. "He probably never felt the love and support that I felt all day."


Anyone with information should call the Benicia Police Department at (707) 745-3412.  If they prefer to remain anonymous, they can all also call Crime Stoppers, 707-644-7867, Crime Stoppers offers rewards for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

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