Regan Areola and his niece Isabelle celebrated her fifth birthday in Pensacola, Fla., on Saturday with her three bears and a new HPD bear sent by detectives.

Happy end to bears' tale

A girl’s stuffed animals, stolen
from a rental car, are recovered
in time for her birthday

By Rod Antone

Once upon a time, there were three teddy bears that were "kidnapped" during a vacation in Hawaii but were then saved by a loving uncle, a security guard and police.

Sound like a fairy tale? For Georgia resident Regan Areola, it was all too real.

"I panicked when I realized the bears were gone," he said. "The vacation was going so perfectly, then boom! This happened."

On Dec. 30 Areola had stopped at Stadium Mall to buy something for his aunt, whom he was visiting in Foster Village. When he returned to his rental car, he discovered someone had broken in and stolen his clothes, cell phone and digital camera.

But the worst news was that his niece's teddy bears were also missing. He had borrowed them to make a home video for her as a gift.

"She likes watching her bears on vacation," Areola said.

He said he posed the bears on the beach and at the Polynesian Cultural Center to show his niece, Isabelle Areola, that they were "enjoying themselves."

"She laughs and points to the screen (when she sees the video) and tells her parents to look.

"It's a delight."

Making things worse was that Areola was to return to Georgia the next day, and Isabelle's fifth birthday was scheduled for this past Saturday. He thought he would have to tell her that her bears, Pandaboo, Pinky Winky and Chiefy Wiefy, were gone for good.

"I didn't want to break my niece's heart that she would never be able to see her bears again," he said. "I didn't know how to explain that ... and I didn't want to be the uncle that lost her teddy bears."

Areola had a little more than two weeks to somehow get the bears back, so the database programmer figured he would do what he did best: collect data, analyze it and try to find a solution.

That meant reactivating his cell phone and hoping that whoever stole it would use it. That worked. Areola got the break he needed when someone left a voice message for a "Roger."

Acting on a hunch, Areola looked up the Honolulu Police Department's CrimeStoppers Web site and found that on Dec. 27, three days before his car was broken into, police asked the public's help in finding Roger Larson. Police said Larson was wanted for auto theft and frequented Salt Lake.

"It was too close of a match," said Areola.

"So I called the security guard who was working at the mall that day and faxed him a picture of Roger Larson."

Safeguard Services security guard Jonathan Nesbit said he was more than happy to help out.

"It happened while I was on duty, so I just figured I'd be doing my job to try and track down this guy," said Nesbit, an E-4 specialist in the Army who works security on the weekends.

Nesbit said he called Areola's stolen cell phone number, and when someone answered he asked, "Is this Roger Larson?"

Surprisingly, Nesbit said the man on the phone identified himself as Larson and admitted to taking the bears.

"We ended up talking for half an hour. ... He told me his life story," said Nesbit. "I tried reasoning with him to get him to give up the bears, and he gave his word that he would return them.

"He said, 'I'm a nice guy, I'm just a thief' and that he didn't want to turn himself in because he's 'at war with police.'"

Areola said he contacted police with the new information. That was when detectives with HPD's Career Criminal unit got involved because Larson was among their repeat offenders whom they had been targeting for months.

"When we got word and found out it was Larson, we knew who we had to talk to," said Detective Bruce Swann. "We felt pretty positive that we could get the bears back for this little girl.

"And plus, the uncle was so passionate about how much the bears meant to his niece ... a lot of us looked at this case as a kidnapping rather than a theft."

Swann would not say who gave them the bears, only that it was an associate of Larson. And by Thursday detectives were mailing back the three bears to Areola along with an HPD teddy bear and a note.

"We said, 'Our bear will watch over your bears now,'" said Swann. "We just thought we'd try and take a bad situation and make it better."

So over the weekend Areola drove four hours to his brother's house in Pensacola, Fla., and gave Isabelle her bears along with a new HPD bear. But he still has not told her that the bears were stolen in the first place.

"She's wondering where the police bear came from," laughed Areola. "But all the kids at the birthday party love it. They've never seen one before.

"I'm just so grateful to the police in Honolulu. ... It's a miracle that we've been able to recover them."

Honolulu Police Department

E-mail to City Desk


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