HOUSTON—What kind of guy of would steal a playground set from a church?
Whoever busted up and carried off the unique play set behind the Jesus Name Tabernacle Apostolic Church probably didn’t realize he was stealing something not only from a church, but also from a severely hemophiliac child.
“It hurts me,” said Erik Reyes, the 12-year-old boy who designed the playground set. “And I hope the guy that took it has convictions to bring it back.”
The story started three years ago, when the Make-a-Wish Foundation asked Erik what he wanted more than anything in the world. He drew plans for a unique backyard play set, a cedar contraption complete with a clubhouse, a picnic table, a spiral slide and a swing set topped with a blue shade and a flag.
The Reyes family set it up in their backyard in Pasadena, where it sat for three years. Then, when the family moved to Baytown to live closer to the old building they were renovating into a church, his mother asked Erik what they should do with the playground set.
“I was really proud of him,” said Cherish Reyes, her voice cracking with emotion. “When I asked what did he want to do with the play set, he wanted to bring it to the church. You know, as a mother, I was just proud of him.”
“I just wanted to take it to the church, because I have cousins and friends here,” Erik said. “And I wanted them to have fun with it.”
They anchored the playhouse on a small plot of land behind the rundown building that’s now the church’s home. Children visiting the church played on it, often as their parents worked or worshipped in the building.
“We have a lot of kids and single moms,” said Manuel Reyes, Erik’s father.
Then one day late last month, the playground set just disappeared.
“I think it’s really sad,” Cherish Reyes said. “It’s kind of a rough area and you know, when you’re trying to do a good thing and things like this happen, it’s sad.”
Whoever stole it took a long time dismantling it, removing it from the anchors affixing it to beams in the ground. An eyewitness saw a man in a white truck driving away with the equipment, so the church’s pastor drove around the neighborhood and spotted the distinctive spiral slide sitting in someone’s backyard.
Baytown police visited the house, the family said, and talked to a man who told a far-fetched story about someone borrowing his truck then selling him the playground equipment. The family said the police persuaded him to return the play set.
“Three or four days later, again we pulled in …” Cherish Reyes said. “And it was gone.”
They’ve looked in the backyard of the man caught earlier with the purloined play set and it’s not there. So the whereabouts of Erik’s custom-designed playground gear is a mystery.
Once again, an eyewitness saw the thief stealing the stuff. Once again, the thief reportedly took his time.
“He was by himself,” Cherish Reyes said. “And he came two or three times, so he wasn’t worried about anybody seeing him. And we’ve driven the neighborhood. We haven’t seen anything.”
The only piece of the busted equipment left behind indicates it’s so badly damaged it may be beyond repair. Still, the Reyes family hopes somebody will spot the unique playground set lying around in somebody’s backyard and call Baytown police.