Mother pleads for return of items which memorialize her deceased son

Published on March 2, 2013
Ann Marie Mackey with her late son John-Michael
— Submitted photo

For many women, a purse isn’t just a way to carry around needed objects — sometimes, among the ID cards and money and sunglasses, we carry around less necessary items; things we just want to keep close.

Ann Marie Mackey’s purse was a scrapbook of memories that helped her adjust to life without her son, John-Michael.

John-Michael, having moved from Newfoundland to Calgary with Ann Marie in 2005, died suddenly a little more than three years ago. He was 18.

“It was clearly a horrific experience,” Mackey says. “He was my son; the most important thing in my life.”

Mackey has described John-Michael as intelligent and articulate, with an open spirit and easy smile.

“He will be remembered for, among other things, his charismatic and contagious personality, tolerance, relaxed and polite nature, generosity, kindness and the indiscriminate love and goodwill he so freely offered family and friends alike,” she wrote in his obituary.

Mackey and John-Michael were close, and his death hit her hard. To keep him near, she tucked different trinkets in her purse and carried them with her. These included his baby pictures and a tiny Winnie the Pooh figurine he had given her after a trip to Disneyworld for his 14th birthday, as well as a heart-shaped rock, also a gift from John-Michael.

On her cellphone, a white BlackBerry Bold, is a recording of John-Michael’s voice — a simple message, saying, “Merry Christmas, Mom, I love you.”

There are also a large number of pictures, some of John-Michael and some taken by him.

“On his last birthday, we went out to a Mexican restaurant for supper and he grabbed my phone and was laughing that I just had a standard screen picture,” Mackey recalls.

“He was very technology-competent, and had been since he was born. He was very hip and very, very cool. He took a picture of a Mexican sun that was in the restaurant and he made it my screen picture. I still have it on my phone.”

As well, Ann Marie carried around items family members and friends had given her after John-Michael’s death in which she took comfort. Those included pink heart-shaped prayer beads in a white pouch, crystals and healing stones, religious medallions and prayer cards. There was also a silver Pandora charm bracelet, given to Mackey the year her son died, filled with 16 charms representing her son, internal strength, friendship and angels as well as charms with her initials, a butterfly, cross, Buddha, owl, heart and more.

“People would crack up laughing at me — my purse weighed a ton, but I always carried it around with me,” Mackey says, chuckling.

After John-Michael’s funeral, which was held in this province, Mackey and her boyfriend moved back here. On the night of Jan. 21, the couple went to the gym at the St. John’s YMCA as usual. They usually drop their belongings off nearby at Mackey’s parents’ house, she says, but on this night, there was a last-minute change of plans..

“I’m normally really careful,” Mackey explains. “My boyfriend has a big truck — I have to pull myself up to get into it — with tinted windows. We threw our stuff in the back.”

That stuff included Mackey’s purse, as well as her boyfriend’s laptop, in a bag.

When the pair came back out of the gym, they found the window of the truck had been smashed, and their belongings had been stolen.

On the laptop were hundreds of photos of a trip to Europe the couple had taken together in celebration of Mackey’s 40th birthday. The only backup of the pictures was on a red memory stick, which was in Mackey’s purse.

“My biggest deal is the irreplaceable stuff my son gave me,” Mackey said.

Mackey and her boyfriend reported the break-in to the police and staff at the YMCA, and have been told of a rash of vehicle break-ins in the area, she says. She doesn’t believe it was a random smash-and-grab — she thinks one or more people may have been casing the area.

She’s also been keeping an eye on local online classified sites and a St. John’s pawn shop, checking for someone perhaps trying to sell her items, and has put posters up around the YMCA.

“Somebody might end up getting $50 or $100 or something, but what is that compared to the sentimental value?” she says. “I can replace the material things. I really, truly hope that the person took the stuff that was important to them and tossed the rest, and that someone will find it.”

Mackey, who studies yoga, says she’s trying to remain zen about the situation and not let it get her down, and is focusing on sending out positive energy to get her trinkets back. She’s willing to accept her items without penalty, she says, and she’s offering a reward.

“I think it’s going to be OK,” she says. “I really hope the things will find their way back to me.”

Mackey’s purse and wallet are Coach brand and black leather. The purse has a single, short strap. In addition to the items mentioned, it contained Mackey’s identification, brown sunglasses, an ivory-coloured wool hat, leather gloves, and her black Blackberry Bold work phone.

Anyone with any information can contact Mackey at

730-4391 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury