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South Carolina Santa thief forgiven after returning with roses to apologize

Dec. 18, 2022 Updated Sun., Dec. 18, 2022 at 8:31 p.m.

The stuffed Santa decoration that was stolen from the display outside a restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina, on Dec. 14. The day after he took it, the thief returned the Santa and apologized.  (Bonjour Main/Bonjour Main)
The stuffed Santa decoration that was stolen from the display outside a restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina, on Dec. 14. The day after he took it, the thief returned the Santa and apologized. (Bonjour Main/Bonjour Main)
By Sydney Page Washington Post

Mayra Gallo showed up at her restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina, several days ago and couldn’t believe what she saw: Her Santa decoration – which she made and placed in front of her eatery as part of a holiday display – was gone.

“Wow. How can people do this?” Gallo, the owner and executive chef of the French restaurant Bonjour Main remembered thinking. “It’s pathetic that things happen like that.”

She had crafted the Santa decoration by hand and was disturbed that someone would steal it. She immediately looked at surveillance footage, and saw that around 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 14, a man picked up the stuffed Santa – which was hanging by a rope – and whisked it away. He left the hat behind.

The figure was part of an elaborate Christmas exhibit, which Gallo and her staff set up to participate in a local “Window Wonderland” competition. The thief destroyed their display, which featured Santa “cooking the Grinch.”

After watching the surveillance footage, “I immediately posted on Facebook and reported it to the police,” said Gallo, adding that the City of Greenville also shared the video.

A few hours later, Gallo was stunned by a second surprise, but this time a much more pleasant one: The man who stole her Santa showed up to say sorry.

With a bouquet of a dozen roses in hand, the man brought back the Santa and apologized profusely for taking it. He told Gallo – who said she does not know his full name or contact information – that he had been drinking.

She said he told her: “I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“He was really honest,” Gallo said, adding that she was stunned he owned up to his actions. “I believe him, and I think he’s sincerely sorry about it.”

Local news picked up the story, and Henry Coburn, a reporter for 7 News, stopped by the restaurant to interview Gallo about the stolen Santa. He didn’t expect to interview the thief, too.

“The owner, a very warm woman named Mayra, went up to him while I was setting up my camera. I waited and watched and then Mayra came back to me,” Coburn wrote in a poignant Twitter thread, which has been shared widely. “She said, ‘He is here to apologize, so I told him if he wants me to accept the apology, he has to talk to the camera and come clean.’ ”

To Coburn’s shock, the man agreed to be interviewed.

He “looked both nervous and extremely embarrassed,” Coburn wrote. “I was worried he was about to cry.”

“I’m sorry. Really sorry,” the man told Coburn, explaining that he had been out celebrating a friend’s birthday, and was intoxicated. “I know saying sorry doesn’t do anything, but I promise I’ll do better.”

“Just wasn’t thinking,” he continued. “I was like, ‘That’s cool. Wish I had it.’ ”

In addition to apologizing, the man offered to do whatever he could to make up for his mistake.

“I’ll do anything I can to make things right, pay for any damages, fix anything I can, work for free,” he said in the interview with Coburn. “I’ll literally do anything to resolve this situation in the most positive way possible.”

After the apology, Gallo decided not to press charges against the man, who helped her repair the damaged Christmas display.

“People make mistakes,” said Gallo. “I’m going to give him the opportunity to do better and learn.”

Coburn was struck by the man’s bravery and honesty, and by the power of forgiveness.

“I got to be in the room for an unexpected, heartwarming redemption story,” he wrote.

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