It was a surprise that not even his wife or their two young daughters knew was coming.
In just a few hours, Cpl. Christopher Petrossian would leave Afghanistan and board a plane destined for home. A year had passed since he’d last seen his family.
All his wife and children knew was that the presents Christopher had saved for a year and a half to buy had already arrived at their Lodi home.
Now, one more present was on its way.
But as he packed his bags, Christopher received an urgent message from home. On the phone, his wife, Cheryl, was in tears. As she stood in their ransacked living room, she told him that someone had broken into their home.
A window was shattered. Their couch was broken. Their presents were gone.
Cheryl, 25, was terrified and needed her husband. Christopher, 27, had to spoil the surprise.
“I told her not to worry about it,” he said. “I’ll be home tomorrow. It made her feel better knowing I’d be home soon.”
Cheryl and their daughters, Carilyn, 4, and Adriana, 6, met Christopher at the Sacramento Airport the following day. As he emerged through the terminal, dressed in fatigues, Cheryl jumped into his arms. He twirled her in the air, they kissed and together went home — the first time Cheryl would agree to return home since the burglary.
Inside their quaint, one-story house, less than a block from Legion Park, empty gift boxes were scattered about. A piece of plywood covered their daughter Carilyn’s bedroom window, which the burglar had shattered to enter the home.
“It was pretty terrifying,” said Cheryl, an account manager at Bregman Financial and Insurance Services in Lodi. “Every since then I’ve had trouble sleeping. Just thinking about someone going through your things is scary, scary stuff.”
Christopher compiled a list of all the presents that were snatched.
There was the video game for his nephew, the tablet for his daughters, the bracelet for Cheryl.
Christopher estimates the value of all the items at more than $5,000.
On a modest soldier’s salary, Christopher, a Lodi high alum, and Cheryl, a Tokay high alum, were savers, not spenders. Together, they always shopped on a tight budget, buying only what they needed, not what they wanted.
But this Christmas, after three deployments to Afghanistan, Christopher decided no gift was too expensive. He would grant every wish his family had.
“I’m used to shopping at Big Lots, and Kmart and thrift stores,” he said. “And finally, after a year and a half in Afghanistan and saving up all that money, I was finally able to start buying somewhat decent stuff. And then a day before I’m supposed to come home, someone breaks in and steals all that stuff.”
Lodi police are investigating the burglary.
With Christmas only days away, Christopher and Cheryl are shopping, trying to replace what they can. Some of the items they can still afford. Some they can’t purchase again.
But for Cheryl, Carilyn and Adriana, the gift that means the most will be there Christmas day.
“I don’t know what I would do here, right now, without him,” Cheryl said.
Anyone with information about the burglary may contact the Lodi Police Department at 209-333-6727 or Lodi Crime Stoppers at 209-369-2746.
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.