A stolen baby Jesus and his manger were returned to a Pulaski County nativity scene in time for Christmas Eve.
But the case of the stolen baby Jesus and his safe return to Steve and Susan Mucci's home is more than a Christmas story — it's also a cautionary tale about the perils of decor acquired outside legal channels.
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To wit: Don't use stolen Christmas decorations on the outside of your home.
And don't acquire your 3-foot wreath from the home of the county attorney.
The tale began Dec. 18 when the Muccis, who live in the Winding Ridge subdivision in Somerset, noticed that Jesus was gone from their lawn nativity scene. The theft of baby Jesus and manger was the most high-profile in a string of Christmas decoration thefts in the Winding Ridge area. The Muccis and others in the neighborhood — including Pulaski County Attorney Bill Thompson — had decorations pinched from their doors, houses and trees over several nights last week.
One of the neighbors reported the theft of a string of lights to Pulaski County Sheriff Todd Wood. Through a series of sources, deputies were led to Fry Estate Apartments on Monday, where they found the stolen lights on an apartment door. They took the stolen lights and returned them to the owner. But no one came to the door when deputies knocked.
On Tuesday, county attorney Thompson, who had heard about the recovery of the stolen lights, called sheriff Wood and told him that a three-foot wreath was stolen from Thompson's chimney on Dec. 19.
Deputies went back Tuesday to Fry Estate Apartments, about half a mile from the Winding Ridge subdivision, and entered the apartment. They found Thompson's wreath on the apartment wall, as well as other ornaments and the baby Jesus.
But only one of the three people who lived at the apartment was home. The roommate said he didn't know how the decorations had gotten there and said police should talk to his roommates, Wood said.
Wood told the roommate to have his roommates — Nicholas Alexander Brainard, 20, and David Gialdini, 19, come to the sheriff's department early Wednesday.
"They were both there at 10 a.m. waiting for me," Wood said of Brainard and Gialdini. The duo confessed to stealing the Christmas decorations and said all of the stolen items had been returned, Wood said.
"They said it was just a stupid prank," Wood said.
Wood turned over all the stolen decorations to Thompson because he knew or might know who they belonged to.
Thompson was just a random target, Wood said.
"I don't think they knew it was the home of the county attorney," Wood said.
But police found more than just stolen Christmas decorations in the apartment. They also found stolen road signs.
That means Brainard and Gialdini will be charged with several counts of receiving stolen property, all misdemeanors. Brainard and Gialdini could not be reached for comment.
Thompson said he was glad to get his wreath back Tuesday night.
"Then he handed me a baby Jesus," Thompson said.
Thompson said he and his wife weren't sure what to do with the baby Jesus. They didn't know who it belonged to.
So Thompson got in the car and drove around the neighborhood.
"There were several nativity scenes, but they all had their baby Jesus," Thompson said. But then he saw the Muccis' empty nativity scene and stopped.
Susan and Steve Mucci's three daughters, who are 13, 8, and 6, were ecstatic when Thompson brought the infant-size Jesus back about 8 p.m. Tuesday.
"The little girls were so excited," Thompson said.
The nativity scene, which was purchased 10 years ago at a Lowe's, is more than 3 feet tall.
The girls were glad to have the baby Jesus restored to its rightful place Tuesday, a day before Christmas Eve, their mother said.
"My 6-year-old went into her room and said 'Thank you, Lord,'" Susan Mucci said.