Salmon Arm teacher finds thief, demands her possessions back and gives him a hug

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SALMON ARM - An elementary school teacher hugged the man who stole her wallet and cellphone because she was so happy he didn’t run away when she caught him herself and demanded her items back.

Rebekah O’Hanley, 33, says she was running late for a physiotherapy appointment on Nov. 24. In her haste to beat the clock, O’Hanley rushed into the office forgetting to lock her car. When she came back, the interior was in disarray - everything was tossed aside and her wallet and phone were missing. The secretary at the physio office described a man who walked by earlier and O'Hanley called police. 

Knowing she should report her stolen bank cards, O’Hanley headed to the bank where she was earlier that day to make a withdrawal and, stifling back tears, asked for a replacement card.

"I was holding it together but I was pretty devastated,” she says. "I said I just took $60 out, would you honour that at all?”

While she talked to the manager of the bank and described her scenario, O’Hanley says she broke down before another bank patron approached and gave her $40.

“He said, ‘I can tell something’s amiss, I want you to have it,” she says.

Leaving the bank, O’Hanley said she felt violated someone took her things and decided she would drive around town and see if her missing phone would connect with the bluetooth in her car. She doesn’t know why she pulled into the Tim Hortons parking lot, but credits it to intuition. As she walked though the doors she spotted her thief - a man in his 30s - and instantly felt her emotions fuel her to march over and demand her things.

“I walked in and I looked around and I saw this guy in the corner. I was like ‘there he is,’” O’Hanley says. Sure enough, once she walked up, she found her phone in pieces on the table.

"I said I’m not turning you in right now, but I’m going to get all of my stuff,” she says.

O’Hanley started reaching and grabbing her things and when the man protested, she cut him down by saying “just don’t. Don’t even try it."

And in a moment to earn her thief’s trust and urge him not to run, O’Hanley did the unthinkable.

“I was so happy. He wasn’t running away, so I just said, ‘I’m just going to give you a hug,’” she says with a laugh.

She didn’t get a hug back. Instead the man, and other patrons watched on as O’Hanley went through all of his things. He told her to take whatever she wanted. O’Hanley says she rifled through his backpack and examined everything, including his knife. While she searched, the man put her phone back together for her and once she was satisfied she had all her possessions back (minus the wallet), the two exited the restaurant together.

“I was on an emotional rollercoaster. He said ‘I’m sorry’, I said ‘thank you’ and he said ‘don’t say thank you to me,’” she says.

“I said this is probably the weirdest thing that will happen to you,” O’Hanley says.

The teacher was also happy to get a phone call from the bank who credited her the extra $20 she was out after the theft. She told them she no longer needed the new bank card. O'Hanley told police she got the job done and that if they wanted to see it, they could call Tim Hortons for the security footage, which she would like to see too.

“I was running on steam," she says. "He definitely got my teacher side."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at, or call 250-319-7494. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

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