FREDERICK, Colo. – A chance encounter between a Firestone man and the mourning father of Shanann Watts Wednesday night has led to a new effort to repurpose many of the stuffed animals left at a memorial at the Watts home for other grieving families.
Trent John and his son were driving through the neighborhood in Frederick where Shanann lived with her two daughters Wednesday evening when they stopped by the home and noticed Shanann’s father, Frank Rzucek, and brother, Frank Rzucek, Jr., out in the home’s driveway.
John said he immediately recognized them and decided to get out of the car and introduce himself.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’ve been in law enforcement for a long time and I know these teddy bears are going to get donated to somewhere,’” John said on Friday. “’Would it be OK with you if I took them and with the smaller ones, I gave them back to police departments to hand out, and then take the bigger ones and turn them into some kind of a blanket or something that we could distribute to fire departments and police departments here locally and across the nation?’”
He said his offer was met “with some tears and a lot of appreciation” by the Rzuceks.
“I gave her father a hug and we shed some tears and shook each other’s’ hands,” John said. “Now we’re going to get to work.”
So on Thursday, John and some neighbors who were taking the memorial down filled up his Suburban with some of the leftover teddy bears and other stuffed animals. He says he’s coordinated with about a dozen friends who know how to sew and says that they’re drafting plans for the blankets.
John said he’s hoping to find out the favorite colors of the Watts girls, Bella and Celeste, to “design something in honor of them.”
“I think that service is a great way to mourn with those that need comfort, so that’s what we’re going to try to do,” he said.
He said the smaller stuffed animals would be cleaned and donated to local police and fire departments, who can in turn give them to kids in crisis situations. The others will be turned into blankets and other items. John said he would be setting up a private Facebook page to ask for fleece donations and other items necessary in coming days.
“I hope we can take that and share that love in moments of crisis in someone else’s life,” he said.
John believes that something put him and the Rzuceks in the same place at the same time earlier this week for a reason.
“What’s the chances of my day and his day aligning right then and there? I actually do think God say, ‘Hey, you know, here’s someone who has a big heart and can put people together and get something done that’s beautiful and helpful.’” John said. “Looking back on the moment I met [Shanann’s] father, I think it was just an alignment of a grieving family and someone who is very involved in the community, and our paths just happened to cross.”
And he hopes that his small gesture is supported by others in Colorado and across the community who have tried to support Shanann’s family.
“As human beings there’s no way to grasp what happened here,” John said. “But we do know how to come together, we do know how to love each other and we do know how to lift up the hands of those that are in mourning.”
Rzucek himself responded to a Facebook post made by John discussing the encounter: “Thank you Shanann would want to give back to people who need god bless you all thank you Frank”.