Thief targets nonprofit helping WWII vet rebuild after Harvey

- Police are looking for the burglar who stole thousands of dollars' worth of tools from a nonprofit that was helping a World War II veteran rebuild after Harvey.

"I opened it up, and you can see--all the hooks had nail guns," said Aaron Ratliff, construction director for the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders, showing the inside of the trailer, emptied of $3-4 thousand worth of tools. "The lock is gone completely, and obviously been cut off."

Ratliff discovered the theft Friday morning. The trailer was parked at William and Maxine Nash's home on Nell Street. The house has been devastated with flooding after Hurricane Harvey.

"Well that's our foundation," said William who is 92. "You gotta have a home."

"You just wanna get back to where you belong," said his wife Maxine.

Volunteers with the nonprofit Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders have been putting in six-day work weeks, rebuilding the World War II veteran's home for free, until this morning's discovery put a wrench in their plans.

"It's a big hit to lose that many tools from one of our trailers," said Ratliff.

Ratliff says his heart sank when he discovered the theft.

"Someone that steals from a charity has a special place in hell," said Linda Dietrich, who is the live-in caretaker for her parents. "When you're stealing from someone that is trying to help somebody else with what they have--what little they have--cuz it's a nonprofit."

Dietrich says she's frustrated the thief is crippling the nonprofit's ramped-up efforts to get her parents moved back into their home after her dad was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

Volunteers did continue their work Friday, despite the theft--borrowing some tools from another construction worker.

"They brought up some more tools for us, and we got to work--got to painting," said Ratliff.

Thanks to volunteers, the home has already come a long way since Hurricane Harvey, when floodwaters reached knee-high inside and chest-high in the street on the day the family of three had to be rescued by boat.

"That was the worst night in my life," said William. "It was bad--unbelievable. Oh well. That's part of life though."

The rescue during Harvey was worse, he says, than the "Battle of the Bulge," where he fought as a 19-year-old in the U.S. Army.

"He went and fought for all of us in World War II--fought for our freedoms," said Ratliff. "This is the least we can do--give back to him."

Many of the volunteers are teens with St. John United Church of Christ in Saint Louis, Missouri, hoping to get the veteran and his wife moved back in by their 70th wedding anniversary in August.

"We do mission trips every year," said Cindy Birkner, the leader of the youth group from Missouri. "When the hurricane hit, they came to me. The kids came to me and said, 'Can we please go to Houston? We feel like God is calling us to go there.'"

Fuller Center Organizers say they really need more local volunteers to help in the Harvey disaster recovery. Join their Facebook group to learn how you can help out.

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