Christmas is one of the happiest times of the year for people across the globe, bringing families together to celebrate. However, Joe Stricker of Centennial, Colorado, found his love of the festive season severely dented when a group of youngsters vandalized the Christmas decorations in his yard. But he was even more shocked when the father of one of the culprits arrived on his doorstep.
Stricker and his family have set up spectacular Christmas light displays outside their home for the past eight years. Dubbed “Stricker’s Winter Wonderland” by locals, the elaborate decorations are up and running from Thanksgiving to the New Year. The lights are on for five hours every day and also include “holiday specs” inspired by stories such as The Night Before Christmas.
Stricker’s hard work gained even wider recognition in 2015, when his display won the Holiday Lights competition run by The Denver Post. But earning that accolade certainly hasn’t caused him to rest on his laurels in the years that have followed. Indeed, in 2017 Stricker spent 80 hours putting the Winter Wonderland together, as he strived to perfect his festive vision.
In addition to providing a Christmas spectacle, Stricker’s display also serves another purpose for the local community. He uses the Winter Wonderland to raise money for his children’s elementary school, in keeping with the spirit of the season. And with all that in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the family keep their front yard under surveillance.
Unfortunately for Stricker, his surveillance cameras were called into action over the first weekend of December 2017. Three people were videoed destroying some of the decorations, as well as tearing down sets of lights. The footage caught the individuals ripping the heads off two reindeer statues and throwing them in the street, while a small model dinosaur was also damaged.
The unpleasantness didn’t stop there, however. With cords and stakes pulled out of the ground, the trio then stole a three-foot dinosaur figure from the display. Stricker’s surveillance footage caught them stuffing the ornament into their vehicle and driving off into the night.
Stricker saw the damage the following day, which prompted him to look at the surveillance footage. And on December 4 the father-of-two then sent the video to 9NEWS, which proceeded to post the footage on its Facebook page. Unsurprisingly, the video provoked a very angry response from the public.
“A family in Centennial needs your help!” the caption read on 9NEWS’ Facebook post. “Surveillance video shows apparent thieves in their front yard, tearing up Christmas lights and stealing a three-foot dinosaur wearing a Santa hat before speeding off. Do you recognize them?”
That post was subsequently viewed more than 100,000 times, also garnering a large number of likes, shares and comments. And among those viewers, one man was particularly interested in the content of the video. As it turns out, he was the father of one of the three thieves and was living out-of-state at the time.
The man had been shown the footage by his older brother, who’d informed him about the situation in Centennial. And shortly after watching the video, he was on a plane for Colorado. He arrived on Stricker’s doorstep a few hours later to set things right. The father was accompanied by the perpetrators and their parents, who all looked suitably “embarrassed and ashamed” according to 9NEWS.
Following that meeting, Stricker responded to 9NEWS via another Facebook post, updating them on the situation. “We thought about all the different options and we have two children of our own,” the post read. “It was hard, but these individuals were in their 20s.”
“If it wasn’t for social media and 9NEWS pushing them forward to confess, and they did it on their own, we would have just let it go,” Stricker continued. “They had two days to come forward and they didn’t. It was absolutely tough for us to make that call. But, what example are we setting for our children?”
However, despite the damage that the trio had caused, Stricker didn’t want them arrested for their crimes. “The individuals were cited, not arrested, by our request, and they will have to go to court and pay fines,” he said. “A very understandable and fair punishment agreed upon by both parties.”
“We ended on great terms and we forgave them for their actions,” Stricker added. “It was very honorable for them to take full responsibility for their actions.” The three individuals, aged 27, 22 and 21, were subsequently issued with summonses from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.
One of the thieves was given a summons for theft, while the second received one for theft, criminal mischief, second-degree criminal tampering and third-degree criminal trespass. As for the third culprit, Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Julie Brooks stated that they received a summons for theft, criminal mischief, and third-degree criminal trespass.
With regards to the actions of the returning father, Stricker stated that he himself would have taken similar action. “I would have done the same if my kids made a mistake,” he wrote on Facebook. “We are only human and people make mistakes. But, there are always consequences for your actions.”
“The big deciding factor for me and my wife to continue with the prosecution process was that they were in their twenties and not 16 years old,” Stricker continued. “Throughout this entire process the individuals were incredibly gracious, kind and completely understanding of our decision. They agreed that the right thing to do was to turn themselves in and take full responsibility for their actions.”
In fact, the Centennial native was left surprised by how contrite the trio seemed to be. “The individuals couldn’t believe the outpour on social media and the impact of their actions on the community,” he added. “We can’t believe this outcome and are at a loss of words at the remorse of these individuals.”
Stricker’s response to this entire incident is admirable to say the least. While some would no doubt be looking to bring the hammer down on the perpetrators, he’s been very forgiving. In some ways, his reaction matches up perfectly with the ideals and values of Christmas.
And the returning father can’t be forgotten, either. Showing no hesitation, he made sure that his child paid for what had happened. During a season when qualities such as selflessness and goodwill to others are championed, that must be admired, too.