Thanks to the concern and a little investigation from an off-duty police officer, Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday might be just a little brighter and a little more meaningful than those of years past, for one local boy and his family.
As his mother Jennifer explains, 7-year-old Keaton Gacke returned home Sunday afternoon to find his beloved 20” “Next” bicycle was missing.
“Unbeknownst to us, apparently the bike had been missing for a few days. We had a very busy week so he hadn’t had time to ride. When Granny dropped him off Sunday afternoon he immediately asked ‘where is my bike,’ I looked everywhere assuming maybe his dad put it in the garage or something, but it was gone. Everyone was upset!” she adds. “I took it as a lesson learned and planned to buy him another bike soon.”
Adding to the already heartbreaking situation was the fact of the bicycle being only a few months old, as Keagan had been given the bicycle as a birthday present. Boy and machine had been basically inseparable since.
“As any little boy, his bike is among his most prized possessions.” Jennifer said. “It has given him his first taste of freedom and responsibility. He rides it the few blocks to and from school any time it is possible.”
Frustrated and upset, Jennifer and Keaton’s father Kasey turned to a local social media page Sunday evening, hoping for some bit of information or lead.
“I put a status up simply to tell my friends,” Jennifer states. “Kasey was angry, so he wanted the whole town to know someone had done something despicable.”
It was shortly after the pair’s social media notification, when Jennifer was contacted by Captain Corey Bennett, an 18-year veteran of the Merrill Police Department.
“Captain Bennett contacted me through Kasey’s post and recommended I report the bike stolen, which I planned to do right away Monday. He then messaged me asking for a description of the bike and offered to check for it at the station. Within an hour of giving him a description, he called telling me the bike was at the department!”
On their way home from school Monday afternoon, Jennifer and Keaton were re-united with the young man’s gem.
In explaining what compelled him to spend a Sunday evening looking for a child’s bicycle, Bennett humbly cited his desire to assist the family and hopefully send a positive message in doing so.
“The story was gathering attention on social media and I had some confidence we had collected the bike earlier in the week,” Bennett explains. “So aside from serving a clearly frustrated family, there was another purpose too. Some, not all, of the comments getting posted were turning into very negative judgments about our community. There was an opportunity to remind everyone exactly why we choose to live here and turn those negative rantings into a positive reminder.
“Once it was verified through their own description to be their child’s bike, it was a good feeling. A child gets their bike back and a family gets to save some money better spent in the upcoming holidays.”
Ironically, young Mr. Gacke’s most prized possession was found abandoned just a few blocks from his home on Wednesday, just a short time after he last rode it.
Unfortunately, the issue of abandoned bicycles is all too common to Bennett and department staff.
Quite frequently, bicycles found to be abandoned are later connected to those reported as stolen.
“We recover ‘abandoned’ bikes more frequently than bikes that we know to be stolen,” the fourth-year administrative captain explains. “Many times we are able to connect those bikes to people who have reported, or will report their bikes as stolen. The frequency of recovery varies but we tend to fill our garage bike-rack at least a couple of times per year with these bikes. The rack holds 40+ bikes. After a certain period of time, if we are not able to locate the owner, the bikes are disposed of through charitable donations, auction, or even salvage in the case of wrecked bikes.”
In terms of theft prevention, Bennett has a few tips.
“We frequently encounter property crimes of all types. Despite that variety, every officer will give you the same prevention advice. That is, secure your possessions by locking your vehicles, outbuildings and homes. Locked access removes an easy opportunity for a thief to make a grab. Also, don’t forget to register your bicycles, which is now offered free by the Merrill Police Department. Bicycle registration is required by ordinance and it really does help return property to the owner.”
Jennifer Gacke resonates Bennett’s advice.
“Register your bikes and lock them up! If something does happen do not hesitate to report it.”
As she further explains, the entire family is both amazed and extremely gracious for the help of Bennett as well as many community members that evening.
“Captain Bennett was so great,” she said Monday, a wide smile spread across her face as she watched an officer walk her son’s bicycle to him and the boy eagerly take possession. “He didn’t have to do what he did and go in to look for Keaton’s bike on a Sunday. I was so surprised when he contacted me and said he had it! It was amazing how many people were willing to help.
“In the short time that it was on Facebook, our community rallied around my son! A friend of ours works at a local pub and her patrons offered a collection to get Keaton a new bike. I am so glad that is unnecessary now, but grateful for the people of this town! We all are so very thankful.”