By Marjorie Nesin
---- — GLOUCESTER — Most residents recognize Gloucester’s most famous panda as the one propped between his momma and poppa bear parents at a table in front of Toodeloos! toy store, always prepared for a cup of tea or a photo with passersby.
But police saw Kevin the panda from another angle this weekend, as they watched video surveillance of a woman with long dark hair stealing the $70 bear Saturday morning, stuffing it into a dark-colored sedan, and hopping into the passenger’s seat before the driver pulled away.
The black and white stuffed panda, standing at about three feet tall and nearly as wide, has sat for almost 2 1/2 years in front of Susan Parent’s toy store, Toodeloos! on Main Street. And he was returned Sunday — thanks to some neighborly vigilance, Parent said.
“Gloucester is watching, all the businesses on Main Street are watching together,” Parent said.
Kevin had been taken once before, that time by a young teenager, Parent said. That time, another Main Street business employee ran after the kid and retrieved the panda.
This past weekend, video footage from a camera in Parent’s own store turned up a handful of clues.
Parent’s video revealed the woman with dark hair yanking Kevin over the back of his chair and squishing him into the vehicle. The video also showed a Lone Gull coffee cup in the woman’s hand.
When Parent saw the Lone Gull cup, she knocked on the neighboring shop’s door and the owner produced more footage of likely the same woman as she bought her coffee. Police are now looking at this footage in an effort to identify the woman who took the bear and the man who was with the woman when she bought coffee at Lone Gull about 10:40 a.m. Saturday, according to the police report.
Parent posted information about Kevin’s disappearance as well as video footage on Facebook and Youtube Saturday, urging residents to help find and safely return the panda. The post spread from user to user, with at least 39 people sharing one post on their personal pages. And, by Sunday morning, before the shop opened, Kevin was back.
An employee of the vintage store Bananas, just down Main Street from Toodeloos!, recognized Kevin when she drove past him on East Main Street. The woman scooped up the bear and returned him to Parent, first wrapping a leopard print scarf around the newly stylish panda’s neck.
And, back out to the tea table Kevin went, his arm resting on momma bear Lulu’s tan-colored stomach.
“Aw he’s back,” a woman walking by the store said Monday. She paused to hug Parent before bustling onward.
Parent said she sees the humor in Kevin’s mysterious travels now that he’s home safe. But, Parent said, she is considering the incident shoplifting and will continue to press for answers and charges against those who took the bear.
As the first few hours had ticked by, Parent had hoped Kevin’s disappearance was a prank, but when no photos or silly ransom notes popped up, she began considering it shoplifting.
“When a day went by with nothing, I started to get upset, disappointed,” Parent said.
Parent said she would consider dropping the charges if the person who stole the stuffed panda came into the store, confessed and apologized. But, whatever the outcome, Parent said, she was glad to have the fuzzy family back together.
“No getting in cars with strangers, Kevin,” Parent joked, wagging her finger at the black and white bear. “We don’t need any more of that.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.