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Tampa police replace kids' stolen gifts, but dog still missing

TAMPA — At least a dozen police officers studied a picture of Honey before hitting the streets Tuesday. The shift supervisor told them to keep a sharp eye out on patrol and ask folks if they've seen her.

Officers were urged to get Honey home for Christmas.

Be on the lookout, Tampa Bay, for Honey, a 12-week-old Shih Tzu dog with soft, white fur, a playful disposition and button nose that is undoubtedly confused to be away from her Marissa, age 7, and Marcus, age 5.

As for the burglar who may have stolen the dog Monday from her Whiteway Drive home, Marissa has a message filled with the wisdom of the innocent.

"Make sure you take care of her," Marissa said at the family's home Tuesday afternoon. "You feed her, you take her for walks, you clean up after her and love her like she's your family."

On Monday, someone broke into Melody Russell's rental home and stole about 20 Christmas presents belonging to her two children that had been stacked under the family's tiny Christmas tree. The burglar also stole a laptop and television and ransacked the house while Russell, 33, was at work.

What hurt the most, though, was missing Honey.

Up to 20 Tampa police dispatchers and officers eased the family's pain by replacing the gifts and ensuring the family's Christmas isn't ruined. The dog, however, remained missing.

The family is convinced the dog was stolen, though Tampa police said it is possible the pooch simply ran off in fright.

It takes a beastly heart to steal a family's Christmas presents, and police officials are particularly motivated to make things right for a family that already struggles to make ends meet.

"Whoever did this is not a nice person," said Donovan Maginnis, 36, a Tampa police communications supervisor who helped in the team effort to replace the family's presents. "Somebody's definitely a Grinch."

So far, police have no suspects, but an investigation continues.

Officers of Squad 204 delivered the presents Tuesday morning in an operation organized by dispatchers, some of whom wrapped gifts on break while officers skipped meal time to make the delivery, said Maginnis.

"I couldn't stop smiling," said Russell. "I didn't have words."

Lt. Yvette Flynn, a Tampa police District II supervisor, said she is always proud of her team, but never more so than Tuesday.

"We patrol these streets," Flynn said. "We get really familiar with the community. These are our families and children out there. The last thing in the world we want is to have one of our families burglarized at Christmas and for kids to go without gifts. The officers take it to heart."

The dog was given to Russell by a relative and was too young to be micro-chipped. Russell, who works as a property manager, said her children have grown to love Honey the two months they've had her.

"This was their little sister," said Russell, who emphasized the positive in an otherwise ugly act by the burglar. "Nothing but good is coming out of this now."

The family has lived in the home only a short time and now plans to move.

Anyone with information about Honey or the burglary was asked to call police at (813) 231-6130. Tips can also be provided anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477.

Marissa, meantime, showed a generosity of spirit beyond her years when asked what she thought of the thief or thieves who stole their presents.

"We should just pray for them and help them be better people than they are right now," she said.

News researcher Natalie Watson and staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report. William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432

Tampa police replace kids' stolen gifts, but dog still missing 12/24/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 9:18pm]
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