Stolen beach bag containing urn with father's ashes returned

sbowman@islandpacket.comJuly 26, 2013 

It was hard enough when Leighann Webb lost her father the first time.

For nearly 24 hours this week, she thought she'd lost him a second.

Thanks to an unidentified stranger, though, she found him again.

A beach bag containing an urn holding Jim Burnett's ashes was stolen Thursday night as it sat outside the door of Webb's rented villa at Ocean Dunes on Hilton Head Island.

Burnett died March 13 and his family planned to scatter the ashes on the beach and in the ocean.

"He just loved the beach," Webb said Friday.

Webb, of Spartanburg, had been on a week-long vacation with her husband, Jimmy, and two sons, Ethan, 15, and Eli, 13. She said her hands were full when she set the bag down outside her door about 6:30 p.m. She was only inside a moment, long enough to drop the other items she was carrying and turn on the oven.

When she went out again, the bag was gone.

"I just went crazy because my car keys and my dad were in there," Webb said Friday night. "You wouldn't believe the stuff that people leave out all the time -- mine was out for five minutes."

The bag also contained a $300 pair of sunglasses, two beach towels and a shirt.

Webb contacted the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. She and another guest went to every door at Ocean Dunes asking if anyone had seen the bag.

Webb didn't sleep at all Thursday night.

She spent her time checking Dumpsters and garbage cans and walking the parking lot.

In addition to being worried about the urn, she was afraid someone would use the stolen keys to steal the family's Honda Pilot.

She had the SUV towed Friday afternoon to Hilton Head Honda so it could be rekeyed. The family was planning to head home Saturday and had no other transportation.

Not more than two hours later, as she walked the beach with Jimmy and Ethan, she got the news she never thought she would.

Eli texted her a picture of the returned bag.

"As soon as I got that text, I just dropped everything and ran back up to the room," said Webb.

There was a knock at the door, Eli said, and the person on the other side handed him the bag. The keys, and more important, the urn, were both inside.

Webb said her son was so happy to have the bag back, he didn't think to ask for a name.

It's a joy the whole family shared.

"He said someone just knocked on the door and gave it back," she said. "I couldn't believe that someone took it, and am in disbelief that I got it back."

The family will scatter the ashes before they go home Saturday morning.

"I'm just grateful it was returned, and with the most important things in it," Webb said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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