Yesterday marked five years since a Trinity County woman and her family was forced to contend with the reality that their trust and safety were betrayed by an extended family member they had once loved.
In June 2016, the woman’s step-grandfather, a man whom she called “Papa” and adored, passed away. The woman’s grandmother had divorced her first husband and remarried when she found love again with “Papa”.
“Papa” had a daughter who gave him a grandson. The Trinity County woman told us she grew close to this grandson, calling him her cousin.
After Papa passed away, his daughter and her son were resentful he had cut them out of any inheritance. So, they decided to take by force what they thought was theirs.
On April 30, 2017, the Trinity County woman’s grandmother celebrated her first birthday after her husband’s passing. With the house empty, Papa’s very own grandson burgled the home of his grandfather’s widow, breaking down doors, rifling through anything in sight, and stealing a nearly five-hundred-pound fireproof gun safe that housed the family’s valuables.
This act would rupture the lives of the entire family.
Yesterday, April 30, 2022, five years to the day the Trinity County family found Papa’s safe stolen, the co-owner of outdoor store Pacific Outfitters Aaron Ostrom was leading a PacOut Green Team event on Murray Road between McKinleyville and Fieldbrook. The team stumbled upon the very same safe stolen from the Trinity County home five years ago.
The Trinity County woman saw the PacOut Green team’s post describing the find of the near quarter-ton safe and the heartbreak and trauma that time had tempered were raw once again.
The Trinity County woman remembers her grandmother was “destroyed on her birthday”–returning home and finding her home ransacked and the safe gone, filled with the memories and keepsakes she gathered with her late husband.
The family soon began to piece together that their loved one, Papa’s grandson, was the one who had victimized her grandmother.
All members of this family will remain unnamed because the alleged burglar was never tried in a court of law.
Doing some sleuthing, the family noticed that this cousin had called his adopted grandmother’s home multiple times in the hours preceding the break-in. “To make sure no one was home,” the Trinity County woman speculated.
A few days after the break-in, a friend contacted her and divulged that her cousin had dropped off multiple items that this friend believed came from the grandmother’s safe. Going to check out the items the next day, her worst suspicions were confirmed: her cousin had dropped off guns, gold necklaces, pictures, and heirlooms that he had stolen from his kin.
The family tracked down the cousin to a local hotel where he was found possessing the Trinity County woman’s personal safe that contained her class ring and passport that had also been stolen from her grandmother’s home. Police were contacted and they found the cousin in possession of $10,000 cash–an amount his adopted grandmother had just recently withdrawn from the bank.
In the month after the break-in, May 2017, the Trinity County woman located her cousin’s girlfriend in a hotel room with more of the items that were once in the safe. Among these was a picture of her Papa and her grandma.
The family attempted to press charges. They were told that there was not enough evidence to arrest the cousin, despite finding him with items and cash that were once secured in his grandfather’s safe.
Aaron Ostrom and the PacOut Green team have made community trash clean-ups a science. Their events always last between one hour to one-and-a-half hours. Volunteers are told to bring nothing but their labor.
For yesterday’s community clean-up, the team identified the area around a pullout near the intersection of Murray Road and David Road, which Ostrom said is a known dumping spot for all sorts of garbage.
One of the team’s scouts had noticed what looked like a safe in the area and told volunteers of the big job ahead of them.
When it came time to actually remove the abandoned safe, it proved to be an ordeal weighing 465 pounds.
As Ostrom was handling and loading the safe, he noticed the bottom had been cut out, which told him that it had been stolen and someone had busted through it for its contents.
Ostrom told us yesterday’s find was not the first safe he had found, but definitely the heaviest.
In his time cleaning up the trash abandoned in natural places, he has uncovered guns, gravesites, and underground bunkers. Ostrom has a tendency, he told us, to “reverse-engineer” how these items come to lie where he finds them.
When the Trinity County woman saw the post on the PacOut team’s Facebook page, she said, “the heart, the anger, the grief” came flooding back.
That 465-pound, fireproof gun safe had once contained her great-grandmother’s jewelry, her grandparents’ wedding ring, and the money her Papa had saved to support him and his wife in their retirement. The safe had become a time capsule representing her family before the break-in, before Papa died, when they were happy.
And, like the safe found exactly five years after it was stolen, the family will never be the same.