Wed Dec 21 08:54am EST
U.S. Army SSG Patrick Jacobson had planned out the next two months before a scheduled nine-month redeployment in Afghanistan at the end of January 2012.
He sold an old truck for $1,000 and planned to use that money to visit his three sons in New York. He would spend Christmas with his wife Shannon and their family — Tatianna, 12, and R.J., 10 — in the Fayetteville, N.C., home they've lived in for five years.
What he didn't plan for: Their house being robbed.
Based out of Fort Bragg, Jacobson arrived home on Dec. 9 to find the place in chaos. Computers had been stolen. The bedroom had been overturned. The children's Christmas presents, still in shopping bags in a bedroom closet, had been taken. The PlayStation that R.J., a high-functioning autistic, considered his favorite thing in the world was gone.
So were savings bonds for the children and Jacobson's truck money.
"Everybody always says to put your most valuable stuff in a fireproof box," said Shannon Jacobson. "Well, they took the fireproof box."
The family was devastated. Their friends were shocked: The Jacobsons were known as one of the most selfless families in the community, volunteering and helping out charitable efforts. For example: Tatianna had donated her birthday presents to a local food bank days before the break-in.
The local ABC affiliate heard about the ordeal and did a feature on the Jacobson's and their loss. Among those touched by the tale: Aaron Ward, a retired National Hockey League defenseman who played five seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes. He asked Mark Armstrong, a sportscaster for ABC 11, for the Jacobsons' phone number.
"I was reluctant to call," he said. "But being in North Carolina, you know how valuable the military is. You know every aspect of that life. We kicked it around and I thought that we're tight knit with the community, so what a great way for the alumni group to make a difference."
So Ward and some of the Hurricanes' alumni decided to help save Christmas for this military family, before their father shipped overseas.
Shannon said she received a call from Ward on Dec. 11.
"I live in Fayetteville. We're not all that into hockey. I had to look up who he was," she said. "The only Ward I recognized was [current Hurricanes goalie] Cam Ward, from the news."
Recalled Aaron Ward: "I don't think she believed it at first. She went with it, but wasn't sure what to make of it.
"We want to help. We want to right a wrong."
Ward explained to her that the Hurricanes had an alumni association that wanted to help replace the gifts that were stolen from their house. He asked for a list of items, which a still-astounded Shannon Jacobson began quickly naming off, items ranging from electronics to gift cards.
"We wanted to replicate as much as we can," said Shane Willis, Youth and Amateur Hockey Coordinator and Carolina Hurricanes alumnus.
On Thursday, Dec. 22, Willis will join Stormy, the Carolina mascot, and other members of the organization in playing "Santa" at the Jacobsons' home — handing out replacement gifts purchased by the former Hurricanes.
"The Hurricanes have had this instilled since they moved to the area. We want to help them out," said Willis.
As for the thieves? "We're takin' our sticks and going to look for them," said Willis, with a laugh.
The Hurricanes aren't alone in their support for this family. Upon hearing about R.J.'s PlayStation, someone drove from Apex (71 miles away) with a replacement — and another arrived in the mail soon after. Shannon Jacobson estimates that a hundred cards and emails have arrived to support a family that had always supported others in need.
"It feels kind of weird being on this end," said Shannon Jacobson. "Like Aaron, who actually got in touch and called me. He could have just sat back and said 'well that sucks.'"
Instead, as Ward said, the Hurricanes helped give "a guy who's going off to being deployed in Afghanistan" a fulfilling Christmas with his family.
"I think I said 'thank you' about a million times in the past week, but it feels inadequate," said Jacobson. "My kids have gotten a ton of Christmas cards, and I've tried to send one back to everyone."
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