The Weber State Police Department is investigating the possible theft of 50 backpacks from Weber State University Campus Stores.
Michael Vaughan, provost and vice president of academic affairs, made arrangements to use funds from his office’s budget to purchase the backpacks and donate them to Catholic Community Service’s annual Backpack Bonanza, a drive that gives new school supplies to children whose families are living in poverty. On Aug. 8 between 4:30 and 5 p.m., a bald man with a goatee in his late 50s came to the bookstore and said he was there to pick up the 50 backpacks.
“He knew what he was doing,” said Ben Taylor, an employee of Campus Stores who helped this man. “I don’t even think he was a thief, because he just seemed like he was the messenger boy sent to pick up the backpacks.”
Taylor and other bookstore staff rung up the backpacks and helped the man load them into his car, a late ’90s or early 2000s white Saab.
A few days later, Vaughan came to the bookstore to pick up the backpacks and Taylor told him his messenger had already picked them up.
“He had no idea what I was talking about, and I realized, ‘Oh, shoot’,” Taylor said.
Campus Stores alerted the police department, which began to investigate, and discovered the 50 Dakine backpacks ranging from $30-$50 each had never turned up at Catholic Community Services. Surveillance cameras recorded video of this man leaving the bookstore. However, the camera that covers the loading dock was not working, and no one remembered the license plate number.
“I was just really kind of sick about it when I found out,” said Marcie Valdez, the director of Catholic Community Services for northern Utah. “It’s one thing to steal from a store, but it’s another to steal from a needy child or needy family. I’m hoping it’s a mistake, because it’s difficult to understand how somebody can be so malicious and uncaring.”
According to Sergeant James Wagner, police are trying to locate this man to find out what became of the backpacks and discern whether a theft took place or if the whole situation is a misunderstanding.
“We’re trying to locate this individual, and we’ve talked to Catholic Community Services to see if they know who this individual is or if they have any information about it,” Wagner said.
To find this man, the police are searching through all the white Saabs registered in Utah and trying to narrow down the pool of possible cars the backpacks were loaded into.
Although police are still trying to figure out whether a theft occurred, Adrienne Gillespie, director of the Center for Diversity and Unity at WSU and volunteer with Catholic Community Services, said too much time has passed for this to be a mere misunderstanding.
“After this long, you’d think the backpacks would have turned up somewhere,” Gillespie said. “It just doesn’t seem like a coincidence.”
Even though the backpacks went missing, Campus Stores still donated 50 Dakine backpacks to Backpack Bonanza out of its own pocket.
“We made a promise to Mike Vaughan,” said Tim Eck, director of the bookstore. “He was doing something good, and it needed to be done even if it cost us double. It was one of those moments where we knew we still had to do the right thing. If this guy really did do something dishonest, we weren’t going to punish people for him doing the wrong thing.”
Despite the hiccup, the Backpack Bonanza drive gave and is still giving hundreds ofunderprivileged children new school supplies in addition to the two giveaway days Aug. 17 and 20.
“We have to have people sign up in advance for the backpacks because the first year we had families and kids lined up for a block for a backpack and we ran out,” Valdez said. “That’s always our greatest fear, luckily this year that was not the case.”
Valdez said receiving new school supplies helps these kindergarten through twelth grade students have more self-confidence.
“For all our little people, they just want to feel like everybody else,” Valdez said. “Children in poverty really struggle. One 8-year-old girl tried on her backpack, twirled around, and said ‘I’m going to be the most popular girl in school.’”