Annmarie Schieding had a full night’s sleep Friday for the first time since her 10-year-old daughter’s grave was looted more than a week ago.
Eight days after discovering that the angel figurines and other mementos she had put on Stephanie’s plot over the years were gone, Schieding returned to Oak Grove Cemetery in Peabody Friday morning to find most of them wrapped in a brown paper bag placed at the foot of her daughter’s headstone.
“I was standing here by myself, crying, because I couldn’t believe her angels had found their way back,” she said.
At first, when she spotted the bag from her car, Schieding thought it was trash. But as she got out, she noticed what looked like a pale wing sticking out of the bag. She wondered if it was a gift from someone who had seen the story on television or read it in the papers, which strangers had been doing since she took her husband’s advice and went to the media on the slim hope they would be returned. Schieding had also put two notes on her daughter’s headstone imploring whomever took the keepsakes to return them.
When she arrived at the grave and untied the bag’s string, she found 14 of the missing angels. The porcelain statues had been scrubbed clean, maybe to sell them or to wipe away fingerprints, Schieding speculated.
Some items are still missing, including a small box with jewelry Stephanie’s friends had left, a miniature statue of the Virgin Mary, and three of the angels.
The angels’ return immediately lifted his wife’s spirits, Paul Schieding said. She texted friends and family the good news, he said, and posted pictures on Facebook of the recovered mementos.
“If it wasn’t for the media, I don’t think we would have gotten it back,” he said.
Peabody police are still investigating the theft, Lieutenant Scott Wlasuk said, and they have increased patrols of the city’s cemeteries. The city used to have a problem with people stealing items for scrap metal, but that diminished, police said.
Schieding has been visiting the grave two to three times a day since the theft. Before that, she had been going about twice a week. In the decade since Stephanie died of a rare form of kidney cancer and was buried there, nothing was taken from the colorful plot, with its garden of purple and white pansies and daisies.
On Friday, Schieding returned the angels to their place on the headstone watching over the blooming flowers.
When she told her husband what had happened, he responded that they just left briefly to help someone in need.
“There was a lost soul out there that they needed to help,” she said. “Now that their job was done, they needed to come back.”