MEXICO — A Rumford woman’s crutches stolen while she shopped at Wal-Mart on Wednesday were returned to her Friday by police Chief Roy Hodsdon. A charge of theft is pending against an elderly local man, the chief said.

Laura Chesley, 57, left her crutches near the store entrance around 4 p.m. Wednesday while she used a motorized scooter to shop. The crutches were gone when she went to retrieve them.

Hodsdon said he found them at 1 p.m. Friday and returned them to Chesley about an hour later.

“She was very happy to get them back,” Hodsdon said.

Chesley has been handicapped since birth because the muscle cords in her hips and legs are too short. She said it was despicable that someone would steal her crutches, especially during Passover.

“It’s just hard to fathom,” she said. “It’s just really hard to think that someone would steal my crutches that I need.”

Police originally thought a woman wearing an eye patch was the culprit, based on blurry video surveillance footage from the store, Hodsdon said.

Late Friday morning, Mexico police released Wal-Mart surveillance video showing a man with an eye patch placing the crutches in a shopping cart and taking them to a gray sedan in the parking lot.

Hodsdon said Wal-Mart’s loss prevention manager solved the case. “She recognized him as a customer who had been in the store before,” he said.

The manager was reviewing additional surveillance footage Friday that Hodsdon didn’t have and discovered the man’s identity. She contacted Hodsdon with the information. The chief used it and the man’s gray Mercury Grand Marquis information to find his home.

Hodsdon said he confessed to taking the crutches.

“He said he thought they were free for the taking,” the chief said.

When Hodsdon told Chesley the information, she told him she wanted the man prosecuted and held responsible.

Hodsdon said that after the story was published on the front page of the Sun Journal on Friday, “It got people thinking and talking about finding the suspect.”

He said it was heartwarming that he received many calls from people wanting to help Chesley.

“I got multiple calls from people and businesses — even from people out of state — who saw the story and wanted to pay for new crutches for her,” Hodsdon said. “I even got a call from a person in Florida who saw the story. It was all very nice. It was good to see that outpouring of caring.”

A woman from Praise Assembly of God Church in Rumford where Chesley is a member came to the Sun Journal’s Rumford bureau and said someone gave Chesley $150 cash to buy new crutches.

An employee of Bedard Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in Auburn also contacted the Rumford bureau and said the company wanted to donate a pair of crutches to Chesley.

“That was a really horrible thing that happened to her and we would really like to help Laura,” said the employee, who only identified herself as Janelle in marketing.

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