Stolen Army specialist's items returned to his mother
Stark: 'I cannot express my gratitude for all that the deputies have done'
On Friday, Barry County Sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement were privileged to return a special crop of stolen items to their rightful owner.
Det. Doug Henry with the sheriff's office said deputies met with Teresa Stark to return seven totes of items belonging to her son, Army Spec. Christopher Stark, a Monett man who was killed in action in COP Tangi, Afghanistan, in February 2011.
"The deputies were awesome," said Teresa Stark, Christopher Stark's mother. "They handled everything with a great deal of respect, and I cannot express my gratitude for all that the deputies have done.
"There is a 'brotherhood' when it comes to military and law enforcement, and when I recovered the items last week, we developed a bond, and undoubtedly, they were watching out for 'one of their own.'"
Stark said after shaking each one of the deputies' hands and thanking them for everything they had done, she turned and started to walk away and leave.
"I turned around to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving with their families and reminded them to tell their families that they love them, and to give their children a big hug," she said. "You never know when it will be your last hug and opportunity to say, 'I love you.'"
For Henry, the meeting was gratifying and emotional.
"You try not to add too much emotion in the cases you work, but I just couldn't help it," he said. "We wanted to let her know we supported what her son did, and her as well. We sent messages to all the people who worked on that scene, and some were veterans or Army brats, so we all had a connection to the military. We are all extended family, whether we know one another or not."
Stark said when the items were stolen from a storage unit in Monett about two months ago, her response was shock.
"I don't understand why someone would take someone else's belongings," she said. "I never thought I would lose a child, but not to have his memorabilia literally broke my heart."
Stark said upon hearing the items had been recovered, she had mixed emotions.
"I was thankful that the Barry County Sheriff's Office recovered some of the items," she said. "It was literally a sense of relief. But, there was also a feeling of being violated to a degree that I cannot begin to explain or put in words.
"All of the items were not returned, but it was great to get back the items that were recovered. It was as emotional as one would expect it to be, but I was thankful for all of the hard work that everyone went through to make it a reality and for the items to be home where they belong."
Henry said Stark was at the sheriff's office for about 45 minutes, going through all the items and telling some stories about some of the things she picked out.
"One thing she showed us was a picture she had been searching for of Christopher and his partner before they were killed in the attack, and she was very happy to get that back," he said.
Henry said the items, which included a number of Stark's personal items -- like his dog tags and blankets made by his family -- were a little more special to return than most other stolen property.
"When you pick up and handle stuff like that, not to downplay others' stolen property, but you have a different sense than with other property," he said. "It's different to handle stuff that belonged to someone who died for our country, even dying for the people that stole it. You're mad, sad and happy all at the same time."
Henry said the toughest part of the investigation for him was finding the dog tags, which he said were hanging on a nail inside the alleged thief's home.
"Finding those hanging there like a trophy was the most insulting of all of it," he said.
Stark said although she's happy to have her son's items returned, it may be a while before she goes through them again.
"I imagine it will be a while before I'm able to go back through the items again and actually feel like they're home again," she said. "Knowing someone pilfered through his items and had no respect for his service to our country leaves a sadness that will just need time to heal."
Stark said although the emotions are still raw, she will be praying for the individuals charged in the case.
"My prayer today is that the individuals involved in these crimes will see the world in a whole new way, and that this will become the first day of the rest of their lives by surrendering to God, letting go of their past and being a witness to others as they serve their time for the crimes they have committed," she said.
Terri Jones, 43, of Seligman, is charged with receiving stolen property and unlawful possession of an illegal weapon, both class C felonies, regarding Stark's property.
She is still being held in the Barry County jail on a $30,000 bond, and her disposition hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 8 at 8:30 a.m. in the courtroom of Judge Robert Foulke.
Also arrested at Jones' home on Nov. 14 was Cody Lowe, 25, of Seligman. Lowe is charged with first-degree tampering with a motor vehicle, a class C felony, in relation to a vehicle allegedly stolen from a home on Highway DD in Seligman. He is still being held in the Barry County jail on a $15,000 bond and had a disposition hearing Tuesday in Foulke's courtroom.