As Monroe residents Shelby and Isaac Loehr recently learned, sometimes the greatest inconveniences can result in the most amazing blessings.
When the couple’s only vehicle was stolen just a week before Christmas, they had no idea what they were going to do. The situation became even more bleak after the car was discovered abandoned deep in the woods, completely stripped. From the wheels and tires to the sunroof motor to the mechanics that operate the windshield wipers; everything was taken. But thanks to a community effort involving the Monroe Police Officers Association (MPOA), Speedway Chevrolet of Monroe and numerous generous donors, the couple was literally back on the road before Christmas.
The 1996 Toyota 4Runner was stolen from the parking lot at their Monroe condominium complex in the early morning hours on Wednesday, Dec. 14. While the loss of their primary mode of transportation was devastating, the loss of what was inside the vehicle made it even worse. Car seats, a double stroller, clothing, toys and shoes belonging to their two young daughters were taken, including a walker belonging to 4-year-old Nelah, who has cerebral palsy.
The Loehrs are in the process of seeking guidance from Seattle Children’s Hospital in hopes that Nelah will be approved for corrective surgery. The loss of the vehicle meant they had no way of getting her to those crucial medical appointments.
It was Nelah who initially noticed the vehicle was missing, Shelby said.
“I took her down to the bus and she was like, ‘Where’s my car?’ I didn’t even notice because I was concentrating on getting her on the bus,” she said.
Strangely, the vehicle was located within several hours, abandoned east of Monroe off S.R. 203. It was a total fluke that it was found so quickly; an individual had decided to go exploring up into the mountains that day, and as he tried to come back down, he discovered the roadway he had used just hours previously was blocked by the decimated 4Runner.
The family’s personal belongings had been scattered all around the vehicle.
He located an insurance card inside the 4Runner and contacted the insurance company.
Shelby’s mom, Debbie Gilseth, is the registered owner of the vehicle, having gifted it to Shelby and Isaac after Nelah was born. She was in the process of filing a stolen vehicle report with the Monroe Police Department when her insurance company called to tell her the vehicle was found. The expenses immediately began to mount, as the vehicle had to be towed back down because it no longer had tires. Insurance was strictly liability, providing no relief, Gilseth said.
Toys, children’s clothing and new shoes were all missing. Even a plush horse was taken.
“They threw the clothing and stuff like that everywhere, but it’s like they took the car seats and the walker like they needed it or something,” Isaac said. “It was weird.”
Gilseth, who works in the security division at Monroe High School, was distraught as she told the story of the destroyed vehicle to Monroe Police Officer Justin Springer the next day. Springer and Gilseth work together at the high school, where Springer serves as the school resource officer.
Struck by the timing of the hardship and wanting to do something to help, Springer approached MPOA President Sgt. Cindy Chessie to see if anything could be done. The MPOA is a nonprofit organization made up of police officers and administrative staff that want to give back to the community. It collects donations in the form of dues, which it uses to perform community outreach throughout the year.
Chessie was immediately struck by the cause. She went and spoke with Speedway Chevrolet owner Tod Johnson to see if a deal could be struck. Isaac set up a GoFundMe page, which started to generate donations.
The MPOA committed to a donation of $1,300 to help the Loehrs get back on the road.
Johnson didn’t have a vehicle in the requested price range, but he made it happen regardless, said Speedway Chevrolet General Sales Manager Rick Wheadon.
“We found a car that would fit and then he just said, ‘Let’s not worry about what the cost is. Let’s just do what we can do and make it work,’” Wheadon said. “So that’s what we did.”
The red 2012 Chevrolet Sonic was listed on Craigslist for $9,000, but Johnson adjusted the price to accommodate the couple’s needs. The Loehrs used the MPOA’s $1,300 donation, plus contributions from the GoFundMe page, to purchase the car for $3,800 plus tax.
Johnson is a community advocate who enjoys giving back, said Sales Manager Rich Hagstrom.
“He’s an amazing person. He just said, ‘I want to help these people out. I want to make this happen,’” Hagstrom said. “Money wasn’t a concern.”
The Loehrs signed the paperwork and picked up their new car on Friday, Dec. 23, just in time for Christmas weekend. Sgt. Ryan Irving and Officer Justin Springer stopped by to congratulate them.
It means so much to the family, particularly considering Nelah’s situation, Gilseth said. Born at 25 weeks, 4-year-old Nelah is a miracle all on her own, she added.
“She was only a pound-13 ounces when she was born, so she was actually the size of a Beanie Baby,” Gilseth said. “The doctors even said it’s a miracle because at first they thought that she would be a vegetable.”
Nelah is a sweet-natured, social girl with a charming personality. She whirled in the snow with her grandfather and her 2-year-old sister, Nevalee, as the two waited for the adults to complete the transaction with the car. While Nelah’s cerebral palsy is relatively mild, the surgery will allow her to enjoy increased stability, helping her to run and walk with greater ease. She likes to be able to keep up with her cousins and friends, Gilseth said, but it’s challenging.
Currently she gets injections that help lengthen her muscles, but the shots have a duration of just a few months, said Gilseth. While the surgery will be intensive, including a three-week stay in the hospital followed by three to 12 months of physical therapy so Nelah can learn how to walk again, it offers the opportunity for a fuller life.
Nelah is a strong and determined little girl, Gilseth said.
“It’s just been amazing to see how far she’s come,” she said.
Having reliable, safe transportation to drive her to her medical appointments is incredible, said Shelby and Isaac. Both the Gilseth and Loehr families would like to extend their gratitude to the MPOA, as well as to all the individual donors that contributed to the GoFundMe campaign.
“This has just been a dream come true,” Gilseth said. “It’s just been an answer to prayers.”