It was an embarrassing situation for widow Sarah Lindgren who got caught shoplifting at Walmart, but hours later the same police officer turned up at her door after they had heard her story.
61-year-old grandma Sarah Lindgren realised she couldn’t pay up for all her purchases at the self-checkout in Walmart, and since Thanksgiving was on its way and she wanted to give her family a good meal, she made a terrible decision by shoplifting at Walmart.
“It had been a while since we’d had a good meal,” Sarah said. “I was determined to give them a good meal no matter what it cost me.” She carried her purchases without scanning it and was making her way toward the door. “I knew what I had done was wrong,” she said. “I just didn’t care anymore.”
Her life had been really hard as her husband, who served as the family’s provider, died unexpectedly years ago which left Lindgren as the head of the household to care for their daughter with special needs, Danielle, and the 8 other children and grandchildren living with them.
She did not want to depend on government handouts and so things were becoming more and more difficult. “For me, I’ve always been able to maintain and help my family, but sometimes you just can’t,” she said. “You just don’t know how to ask for help.”
Although her husband’s insurance money helped for some time, but then it was soon finished between Danielle’s medical issues and car accidents, Danielle found herself doing something she would have never dreamt off at Walmart- shoplifting. “At that point, I was done,” she said. “I was just tired and drained. I didn’t care anymore.”
As she was trying to exit Walmart with the groceries, a Walmart employee stopped her and her 18-year-old daughter, Danielle, who’d accompanied her to the store. And that’s when her worst fears came alive as she was caught shoplifting at Walmart. Police officer Bryan Wagner of the Woodbury Police Department in Minnesota got the call from Walmart and responded, this would be a shoplifting case unlike any other he had experienced before.
Walmart had escorted Sarah Lindgren and her daughter, Danielle, to a small room to wait for the officer to arrive. And when Bryan got there, he walked into the room to find Danielle sobbing. “Sarah told me her daughter was autistic,” he said. Although Lindgren was not crying, but she was certainly terrified.
“I wasn’t scared for me,” she said. “I was scared for my family; what it would mean for me not to be here.”
When Sarah Lindgren explained her story to officer Bryan Wagner, he had certainly heard many sob stories before, but Sarah seemed genuine. “As a police officer, I am lied to often and tend to become skeptical of stories given by people who are potentially being arrested,” he said. “I released her from Walmart with a citation for theft. She was remorseful, and, from my experience, it was likely her first time stealing.”
So, the police officer showed mercy and wrote Sarah a citation and let her and Danielle go home. He also did some further research and discovered the 61-year-old had told the truth. “There was nothing. She has less speeding tickets than I do,” he said. “No negative contacts ever. Our system goes back to the 80s, there’s nothing.”
Officer Bryan knows that shoplifting is wrong, but he also was a firm believer in giving second chances. And not just because of his line of work. He was still recovering from an accident that occurred about a year and a half ago. A tow truck slammed into the back of his parked squad car and after spending 6 months out of work due to a brain injury, he’s grateful to be alive. “God gives us second chances and you’ve got to take advantage of them,” he said.
Sarah Lindgren’s sad story moved him and he decided to help her. First, Bryan waived the citation he’d written. Then, he stopped off at the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf. After explaining how the widow got caught shoplifting at Walmart, the workers loaded the backseat of the officer’s police car with boxes upon boxes of food. “These are volunteers who are serving customers every week,” executive director Jessica Francis said. “But hearing her story really touched them, when you think about how desperate she must have felt.”
When Officer Bryan Wagner landed up with all that food piled up in his car, outside Sarah Lindgren’s home, the grandma must have thought that she was going to go to jail. But then Bryan explained why he was there. “Couldn’t believe it, I was just overwhelmed, stunned, in disbelief,” Sarah said.
And as the police officer showed her all of the food he’d brought, Sarah felt even more ashamed over being caught shoplifting at Walmart. “She told me to bring it back,” Bryan explained. “She said, ‘I don’t deserve this, I committed a crime.’” But Bryan refused. He also told her about the voided citation, telling her to throw it in the trash. “She gave me a hug, probably two minutes, gave me a hug, cried,” the officer said.
Bryan chose to forgive the widow for the poor choice she had made in her desperation, but instead he forgave her which made a bigger impact than the punishment would have made on her. “He made me feel like I wasn’t all alone, like I wasn’t carrying the whole load by myself,” a tearful Sarah Lindgren recalled. “He’s my guardian angel.”
Now she is sharing her inspirational short story with everybody on social media so that people would know that there are two sides of the coin and although some would say, “You shouldn’t have done what you did. You deserve to go to jail.” She said, “They’re probably right,” and adds, “But there’s going to be some who know what I’m talking about. They know what I’m feeling. They’ve been through it.”
Sarah is sharing about how the police officer restored her faith in humanity by showing her grace instead of punishing her. And she hopes her story inspires and encourages others. “It has opened my eyes,” she said. “There are people out there that are willing to help if you ask.”
And Officer Bryan Wagner admires the grandma for opening up. “In the grand scheme of life, it’s a tiny mistake she’s made,” he said. “I commend her more than anything to coming forward and facing protentional criticism from people to say, ‘This is where I’ve been, get help, it’s okay’.”
It must have been such a desperate situation that made the grandma commit a crime like shoplifting, but God had mercy upon her and her family and landed her in the merciful hands of officer Brian Wagner who not only forgave her but blessed her with loads of food for the family.