It’s amazing as well, Loretta Simmonds said, that the stuffed animal was lost in St. John’s, but found by one of her former students at Heritage Collegiate.
The family’s ordeal started Feb. 15 when Loretta and her 12-year-old daughter Riana travelled to St. John’s for Riana’s appointment with her eye specialist.
Born premature, Riana has had some eye issues since birth and, on her latest medical appointment, told she may need corrective surgery.
Riana left the Janeway with her mother and headed for home, upset with the thought of possible surgery.
“The wind had started to pick up and was blowing around … I said to Riana, as I usually do, just lie back a little and close your eyes.”
Riana reached for her bunny – a stuffed animal that she’d owned since day her parents brought her home from the hospital as an infant. Upset when she couldn’t find it, she asked her mother to turn around and go back and look for it.
Loretta reassured her that bunny was likely caught up in a blanket or under a seat and that they would stop at Whitbourne and find it.
However, when they pulled over at Whitbourne and searched the truck bunny was nowhere to be found.
Loretta continued to reassure her daughter that bunny was likely still in the truck – perhaps fallen behind the seats – and that Riana’s father (Phil) would check when they reached home.
Riana cried a lot on the rest of the drive home, mourning the loss of her beloved stuffed animal. Tears also spilled from Loretta’s eyes as she thought about how the bunny had been with her daughter through good times and bad.
Bunny isn’t a toy, Loretta said, rather her daughter’s comfort and security.
“It’s been at every hospital visit that she’s ever gone to. It’s been on two trips to Orlando. It’s been to summer camps for a week at a time. It’s been with her during my two diagnosis of breast cancer. It’s her lifeline.”
After arriving home suppertime and after having her husband check the truck one more time, Loretta reluctantly took to social media to tell of bunny’s disappearance.
“We’re fairly private people and we don’t display a lot on Facebook. But my husband suggested I put up a post. I opened Facebook, turned my privacy setting to public and I shared it.”
Loretta wrote how bunny had been lost either on the Health Sciences Centre parking lot or near the Dollarama/Avalon Mall.
Within 20 minutes, more than 70 people had shared Loretta’s status update. By the following morning the update had been shared more than 400 times.
By the time bunny was found the following day, the shares had grown to more than 1,100.
The story saw both friends and strangers going to the parking lots looking for bunny.
“The nurses and other workers at the Janeway were out looking. Friends of ours from CBS even went to the Avalon Mall parking lot and to the parking place at the HSC (where you pay to park) and asked there. People were scouring the parking lots but it was nowhere to be found.”
The day after losing her bunny, Riana went to school broken hearted.
When her mother picked her up after classes the first thing she asked was if anybody had found bunny.
“I said, ‘No my love, but we still got hope.’”
That hope turned into reality a short while later.
Loretta and Riana were stopped at a gas station when Loretta’s cell phone began to ring.
She let the message manager take the call and when they checked the message it was the news they’d be hoping and praying for.
Riana started screaming, ‘Bunny has been found! Bunny has been found!’ I just sat there and I cried.”
The caller left a phone number. It was Loretta’s former student, Chelsea Harris.
She had found the bunny on the parking lot of the Avalon Mall.
Bunny was back home later that evening. After several washes, it was back to its normal self, having spent just one night homeless, away from Riana.
Loretta is still overwhelmed by the kindness of family, friends and strangers. It’s not lost on her that the stuffed animal is called a prayer bunny.
“There’s a lesson to be learned here about the power of prayer. When bunny was missing, my mom (Shirley) said, ‘Take it to God.’ We will never forget the generosity and the compassion of so many people. My heart is so full. It’s unbelievable.”
A soft-spoken Riana echoed her mom’s gratefulness.
“I remember Chelsea because when I was in kindergarten she used to bring me up to my mom’s classroom. I just want to say a big thank-you to everyone who was looking for him. I never thought it would happen. The chances of finding him were like one in a million. I’m just overjoyed.”