From confusion to sadness, people usually experience a number of emotions following a robbery. Paul Didier can certainly attest to that, as two of his stuffed toy gorillas were taken from outside his house in April 2019. However, the local community then looked to do something about it.
Throughout the world, a vast number of people suffer from varying medical issues, whether that be a disease or a disability. And the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made an eye-opening revelation back in 2014. Indeed, the CDC announced that around 1 percent of people across the planet live with autism.
Didier is one of those people. A resident of Fremont, Indiana, his house can be found on the same road as the local school, meaning that plenty of traffic passes him by. And as people travel down that street during the warmer months of the year, one thing continues to stand out on the autistic man’s porch.
As spring rolls in, Didier brings his large collection of stuffed animals out into the front yard. While the giant toys are certainly eye-catching for passers-by, they also hold a special meaning to the Fremont resident. That’s because in his eyes, the plushies are an extension of his friends and family.
With that in mind, Didier introduced some of those animals to CBS-affiliate WANE-TV in April 2019. “I have Blueberry, I got King Louie, Sarah and Winnie the Pooh right behind me,” he told the television station while sat outside his house. “I just love all my stuffed animals.”
Moreover, the local community definitely appreciated Didier’s willingness to share his prized possessions, as was confirmed by one of Fremont’s police officers. According to deputy Jordon Trippe, the animals are a very welcome sight. “It’s kind of an icon in the community where everybody wakes up in the morning and sees what Paul has done with these gorillas,” he said to WANE-TV.
Didier had several other stuffed animals in his collection as well, with one in particular standing out. Rainbow was a giant multi-colored gorilla with lime green features, so its appearance lived up to its name. Unfortunately for all concerned, though, the endearing tradition of Didier displaying his toys was somewhat derailed in the spring of 2019.
Both Rainbow and King Louie, a big brown toy gorilla, were stolen from Didier’s front yard at that point, leaving him devastated. “I said to myself, ‘Jesus, help me find my gorillas,’” the Fremont resident recalled to WANE-TV following the theft. “And I was just praying my heart out [for their return].”
Given how beloved Didier’s animals had become in the community, the Fremont Police Department quickly spread word of the theft via social media. Using their official Facebook account, a notice was posted in April 2019 detailing what happened. The department also included a hashtag above the message, which simply read: “#FreeTheGorillas.”
“That’s our plea tonight Fremont,” begins the police department’s Facebook post, referencing the hashtag. “As a small community we all know who these gorillas belong to, and someone has stolen our family’s gorillas! Please, all we ask is bring these gorillas back to Paul unharmed!” From there, a key piece of information was shared.
“‘King Louie’ and ‘Rainbow’ welcome our students to school every day in the spring, and they were kidnapped last evening at 9:15 P.M,” the message continued. “SHARE THIS POST. Please help us get these back to their family as soon as possible!” Alongside these words, the department also included a photo of the two gorillas sitting together.
The Fremont Police Department’s message subsequently garnered plenty of attention on social media, as people rallied behind the cause. Since being posted, in fact, the message has earned hundreds of likes and more than 1,200 shares on Facebook. In addition to that, it’s generated in excess of 150 comments from online users.
And most of those comments came from people living in the local community who condemned the actions of the thieves. “Paul is such a sweetheart!” wrote Facebook user Kathy Borg. “Makes me so mad that someone would do that to him! I really hope you punish whoever did this!”
Those feelings were reiterated by fellow reader Vanessa Forbes Milliman, who hoped that the culprits would realize the error of their ways. “Seriously, this is a small community and people talk,” she wrote. “Bring Paul his gorillas back. I hope whomever decided to ‘kidnap’ them has the heart to return them.”
Elsewhere, Facebook user Joy Shelburne offered some words of support for Didier after the theft. “[I] was hopeful [the gorillas] would be returned by now, so very sad,” she wrote. “Hugs to you Paul! Channel 15 just showed Rainbow and King Louie. I am praying someone gets them back for you, love and hugs [to] Paul and family.”
Meanwhile, several other users promised to be on the lookout for King Louie and Rainbow, with the community coming together in force. On that note, a friend of Didier’s family then shared their take on the situation, recalling another incident from the past. And the comment ended with a heartfelt offer.
“I’ll let my dad know,” wrote Robin Wilsey-Ward Mary Kay. “We have been friends of the Church family for years. This makes me sad. Their little light colored dachshund momma was stolen a few years ago. I have a huge penguin [Didier] can have. It’s at my parents’ house.”
And Kay wasn’t the only one to make such an offer, as another Facebook user followed suit. Indeed, Shawna Connelly wanted to present Didier with a new stuffed gorilla from her family. After packing the giant toy into the back of her car, the local resident dropped it off on his doorstep, taking a couple of photos along the way.
Off the back of Connelly’s gesture, Didier’s mother Cynthia Church then responded to her via Facebook. “That was so sweet of you,” Church wrote. “[The gorilla] is tucked in bed for the night safe and sound! What kindness! Sorry we were not here to thank you!”
Moreover, just two days after the Fremont Police Department shared the story about Didier’s stuffed animals, they had an update on the case. Many people kept had their eyes open for Rainbow and King Louie over that period, and as a result the authorities had finally made a breakthrough. However, the news was somewhat bittersweet.
In the announcement, the department also paid tribute to the residents of Fremont for their part in the search. “Feel good moment,” read the statement on the police’s Facebook page. “Because of YOU, we have made the return of King Louie possible! King Louie has been returned to Paul this morning, unharmed.”
“There is no doubt because of the help of our amazing followers, the Fremont and Steuben County Community, and our media partners, this dream became a reality!” the post continued. From there, the department condemned the theft of King Louie and Rainbow, before hailing the response of the local populace once again.
“To say it is disheartening that someone stole these gorillas from Paul is an understatement,” read the post. “However, the reaction of our community and the thoughtful acts of kindness are what shines through everything. Fremont, we are truly blessed to live, and work, in a community this strong.”
Sadly for Didier, though, the next piece of news from the Fremont Police Department wasn’t as positive. “Unfortunately, Rainbow is not able to be returned,” they revealed in the Facebook post. At that point, the authorities then confirmed that they had a suspect for the robbery that had outraged so many people in the local area.
“The Fremont Police Department has identified the suspect involved in the theft of the gorillas and interviews are being set,” the post added. “The suspect is a 17-year-old juvenile out of Coldwater, Michigan. No further information can be released due to the suspect’s age and the ongoing investigation.”
In addition to the message, the department also included a photo of Didier reuniting with his stolen plushie. Bathed in sunshine by the side of a road, the Fremont resident had a big grin on his face while standing next to King Louie. And much like the previous post, this update generated a big response on social media.
Indeed, the Facebook post earned well over 1,000 likes and more than 500 shares, while also generating hundreds of comments. Most of those messages relayed feelings of relief from locals who were delighted that Didier had at least got one of his gorillas back. Nonetheless, Rainbow’s fate angered plenty of people.
“Kids are horrible these days,” wrote Facebook user Becky Lake in the comments section. “They think EVERYTHING belongs to them. They have no respect for other people’s property. They think bullying is funny. I’m glad Pauly got at least one [gorilla] back. He’s the sweetest guy.”
Those feelings were reiterated by fellow user Cathy Gaff, although she choose not to condemn the suspect. “I agree that the boy should have to work and pay to replace the damaged gorilla,” Gaff wrote. “But everyone needs to remember that 17 year olds sometimes do stupid things. He may not have known who he was stealing from.”
While the discussion continued on social media, Didier’s mother made her own response to the update. Following the return of King Louie to her son, Church wrote a lengthy post detailing what she felt should happen next. But despite everything that transpired, she still had no ill-feelings toward the young suspect.
“As Paul’s mom, we asked that the young man come and do a face-to-face apology,” Church wrote on Facebook. “Shake Paul Didier’s hand. Knowing my son, he will pray for this young man. We also think some time helping with our not for profit Promise Land Community, activities with disabled folks, would benefit him.”
On that note, Church then explained why she wasn’t angry with the teenager, making an interesting point along the way. “What we do with our today affects our tomorrow, negative or positive,” she continued. “I have great hopes for this young man. We are meant to meet despite the reason.”
From there, Church concluded her thoughtful social media post by looking to the future. “Forgiveness always,” the mom added. “Who knows, maybe someday he might have his own child with disabilities. Or hey, even catch the passion and have a career walking beside disabled folks. Blessings and love [to] you all!”
As for Didier, the positive developments in this story came as a big relief. Flanked by his other stuffed animals outside his house, the Fremont native reiterated just how much they meant to him. And while Rainbow wasn’t there, Didier nonetheless seemed incredibly appreciative that King Louie had eventually been recovered.
“I was so, so happy that [King Louie was found],” Didier told WANE-TV in April 2019. “I have a family here that I love.” That “family” was only set to get bigger in the following days, in fact, with Church revealing that even more plushies were going to arrive at the house.
“We’ve got two more friends [on the way]. And we heard that we might have some more friends coming, so watch out,” Church said. “We’re going to have a zoo!” What’s more, that news report was subsequently uploaded on Facebook by WANE-TV journalist Ruben Solis, which generated another big response.
The video has since earned over 80,000 views on the social media website, alongside close to 650 likes and more than 1,000 shares. In addition to that, Solis’ post again generated plenty of comments from viewers, many of whom were pleased by the outcome of the story. Moreover, one of those users had previously met Didier, which prompted them to recall the encounter.
“Such a sweet guy, whom I met for a brief moment back in February at a Komets hockey game!” wrote Facebook user April Wannemacher. “My co-workers and I were in attendance for a work outing. We saw him excitedly cheering in the crowd, a short distance from our area, trying to get the crowd pumped.”
“We responded from up above and had many cheering moments together, with [Didier] blowing a few kisses our way!” Wannemacher added. “[I] ran into him during one of the intermissions and was able to tell him how great he was and to keep doing what he’s doing. Glad King Louie was able to be returned!”
What’s more, this story took one last twist a few days after King Louie was found. Despite having suggested that Rainbow couldn’t be returned at first, the Fremont Police Department now had some better news. Didier and the multicolored gorilla had finally been reunited, in fact, although the latter was in need of a few repairs.