Phil Luciano: Wishing for some street justice from Santa

Phil Luciano

You think of Santa Claus as a jolly, oversized elf who wraps the world in generosity and kindness.

But I wish ol' St. Nick had a darker side - or maybe a vigilante twin brother - to tap into those magical powers. Like a fat, bearded Batman, he could track down yuletide jerks and mete out street justice.

That's what came to mind as I chatted with 3-year-old Jaiden Lopez in his home. A volunteer Kris Kringle recently visited the lad and dropped off gifts. But on Friday, burglary claimed every present under the tree.

"It's just tough, you know?" says Jaiden's mother, Ashley Irons, 23.

The boy, Irons and fiance Jose Lopez have lived in a rental home for a year. In October, Irons was laid off from her factory job. Lopez, 24, makes minimum wage at a chicken joint.

Last month, finances got tighter than usual.

"We were getting short on money," Irons says.

She knew Jaiden's Christmas would be lean. So she signed up for the Toys for Tots program at The Salvation Army. She was grateful that the boy would get several gifts.

But then came a bonus. Through a special program run by firefighters and other volunteers, The Salvation Army called to say Santa Claus wanted to visit Jaiden. The big guy in red stopped by early this month, prompting Jaiden's eyes to widen with glee.

"He was so excited," Irons says.

After Jaiden talked on Santa's lap for a while, Santa gave him two gifts. Irons let him unwrap one: a triple-set of little push cars. The other was to stay wrapped under the tree until Christmas morning.

That gift soon would be joined by about 30 others bought by Irons and her fiance. Those modest presents were for Jaiden, plus extended family.

Friday, Lopez went to work, while Irons and their son visited family. That night, she drove to pick him up at work, and all three returned home. But when they walked in the front door, they felt a rush of cold air.

The back door had been bashed in.

Says Jose Lopez: "They had to take at least 10 minutes to kick it in. It had dead bolts and everything."

The couple looked around. Gone were a Wii video game system and several other electronic devices.

Then they looked under the tree. Everything had vanished, except for five gifts.

Says Irons, "I'm guessing they couldn't fit them (in a getaway car), or they got frightened off."

The couple then had to tell Jaiden what had happened: "A stranger broke down the door and stole all of our presents."

His face showed calm surprise. Says Irons: "He didn't cry. I don't think he understood all the way."

The couple does have rental insurance. But they don't expect a settlement until long after the holidays.

Luckily, today Jaiden will get his Toys for Tots gifts. But the couple can't afford to replace the other presents they'd bought him. And they can't buy new ones for extended family.

Meantime, police have no suspects.

Says Irons, "I don't know if someone was watching our house (to pull a burglary), or someone is going house to house to see what they can get."

She sighs.

"They stole Christmas," she says.

Peoria Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano can be reached at (309) 686-3155