Thieves put a damper on military family's Christmas spirit

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 23, 2008 - 12:27 AM

A couple and their baby had their belongings taken from their car in Nebraska. They were driving from Arizona to North Carolina with a stop in Brooklyn Park to visit family.

It was supposed to be the perfect Christmas for U.S. Army Specialist Jason Rynders and his wife, Felisha.

The couple had bundled their 1 1/2-month-old son into the car with a bunch of their belongings and headed toward Minnesota. Moving cross-country from Arizona to North Carolina for Jason's new post, they were making a detour to introduce the newborn to Jason's parents and family in Brooklyn Park. With Jason's brother home from Germany, it would be the first time the entire family would be together in nearly four years.

But on the journey north, Grinch-like thieves stole the Rynderses' holiday spirit four days before Christmas.

After returning from duty in Iraq a year ago and starting a family, Jason Rynders on Monday found himself starting from scratch, shopping for blue jeans at Wal-Mart, buying clothes for his wife and getting basic supplies for their new baby, Raymond.

It all started late Saturday, when the couple stopped to sleep outside Omaha, bringing the baby, their cat and minimal supplies into a Motel 6 room. When Jason walked out Sunday morning, ready to hit the road again, he said he saw empty pavement where their Ford Focus used to be.

Jason, 22, said he persuaded the motel clerk to let him use a computer so he could use an Internet tracking system that had been installed in the car. Sure enough, he located it about 5 miles away. But when police got to it, almost everything inside was gone: clothes, electronics, Jason's Army fatigues that he wore on duty in Iraq last year, four bowling balls.

"They took [the baby's] clothes, they took his diapers, they took his wipes, they took the last four to five cans of formula that we had for him for the month," Jason said.

Lt. Mark Trapp of the Sarpy County Sheriff's Office said it appeared the thieves had broken into the car by prying open molding on the passenger door. The value of items reported stolen was about $4,000, Trapp said, but acknowledged unreported items could bring the total higher.

While the Rynderses' furniture is being shipped to North Carolina, Jason said their car contained all the essentials for the journey and settling into a new home. They lived in military housing in Arizona and they don't have insurance that will cover the loss, Jason said.

Monday night, Jason's brother took the family shopping for clothes. Other family members have pitched in some hand-me-down baby supplies. They're still planning to drive their car to North Carolina after Jan. 1.

"Basically what they have is what they pulled up at the house with," said Jason's father, Randy Rynders. "The clothing they have is what they had on their back."

Jason said it is especially hard to believe the thieves went ahead with their crime after tearing through their newly taken family photos and military uniforms in the car.

"You know I'm in the Army and we've got a brand new baby, you see all our stuff in there, we're moving," he said. "Why would you do something like that?''

With everyone safe, Jason said his family will still try to enjoy the holidays.

"It'll be a dampered Christmas," he said. "It's not going to be the same."

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

  • IF YOU WANT TO HELP

    The family has set up a fund in Jason Rynders’ name. Contributions will be taken at U.S. Bank locations.
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