December 24, 2004 in City

Marine’s farmhouse ransacked by thieves

By The Spokesman-Review
Holly Pickett photo

Kellie Coffey, left, sits with her parents, Virginia and Larry Heaton, in her brother Sgt. John Heaton’s kitchen near on Latah Thursday morning.
(Full-size photo)

Sgt. John Heaton kept his most cherished possessions locked in a metal box in his bedroom.

Inside the large box were letters of encouragement and mementos from his Marine Corps training.

Thieves may have thought the footlocker had guns or other valuables. It was stolen during a recent burglary, in which Heaton’s farmhouse near Latah was ransacked. A large-screen television, computer monitors and other items were also taken.

Heaton, 35, is serving in Iraq. He’s a member of the local Marine reserve unit deployed in July to provide security for a U.S. military base.

Heaton called home this week and heard about the burglary.

“The first thing he asked about were the letters in the footlocker,” his sister Kellie Coffey said. “Those are what he’s most concerned about trying to find again.”

Some letters were from his now-deceased grandmothers. Others were from friends and community members.

Besides reporting the burglary to law enforcement officers, the Heatons sent word to friends in the small, close-knit Palouse farming communities near Latah. Heaton is well-known and well-liked there, his family said. They’ve already gotten many calls and promises that friends will be on the lookout for the box.

The hope is that the footlocker’s contents will be found before Heaton returns to the United States this spring.

Heaton is from a farming family. He grew up near Tekoa, graduated from Washington State University with a political science major and manages the family’s grain business. He’s known for being able to recite long passages from Shakespeare. He loves history. Heaton joined the Marines at 28, fulfilling a childhood dream.

When Heaton was sent to Iraq this year, his family was amazed at the community support. Heaton gets so many letters and care packages in Iraq, a fellow Marine assumed he had a big family.

“No, I’m from a small town,” Heaton reportedly said.

Heaton’s father, Larry Heaton, discovered the burglary Sunday when he went to check Heaton’s house, as he does nearly every day. The cupboards had been opened and muddy footprints tracked across the floors and furniture.

Most folks in the Latah area knew Heaton was in Iraq. His family guesses the thieves likely knew as well. Heaton proudly flies both a U.S. and a Marine Corps flag outside and inside. The farmhouse had been prepared for his long absence.

“You still feel a little bit targeted,” Coffey said.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has assigned the case to a detective, said Cpl. Dave Reagan, spokesman for the department. The deputy also collected fingerprint and other evidence, Reagan said.

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