On New Year’s night, Emily Elkins was at home, tired and sick after radiation treatments.
Emily had just given her Christmas money and gifts to another family fighting a brain tumor, after having spent hundreds more dollars to buy Christmas gifts for 15 Salvation Army Angel Tree children who would have had no gifts.
That same night, the doors opened at a Rock Hill convenience store, and for the second time in six months, an attempt was made to steal donations from this child with cancer.
It was an encore of a most despicable crime.
Just before 8 p.m. Tuesday night, a clerk at the Springdale Superette in Rock Hill turned around to find a man wrestling with a white milk jug with little flowers and the words “Donations for Emily Elkins” in paint of pink and orange and purplish blue.
Somebody had painted a butterfly on the jug. The jug, on the counter, tethered to the underside of the counter with an old coat hanger, contained no milk.
The clerk yelled, the jerk tugging the jug finally ran out.
A few minutes later a person wearing a camouflage mask ran in, said, “Just kidding!” and fled.
The clerk called the cops, who were too late to catch the would-be thief. The jug was still there, crushed and dented, filled with quarters and dimes and dollar bills.
The jug had been there for months – like so many other jars and bottles and cans across stores in York County – because Emily Elkins, 14, has cancer.
The money inside the jugs is raised to help Emily’s family pay the brutal cost of chemotherapy, radiation, doctors, more.
On July 31, another jar for Emily on the other side of the city was stolen from another store. That jug had $70 in it. The suspect in that crime, whom police identified as Johnny Ray Kendricks, 49, remains uncaught.
Emily’s father, Paul, was sickened by the theft and the most recent attempt.
“Awful,” said big Paul Elkins.
Her mother, Annie Brakefield, was appalled.
“How could anyone do this?” she wondered.
Emily – who used to have long hair and was a cheerleader and track runner, knocked down by a brutal muscle cancer that was caught with a tumor in her right leg as large as a softball – just smiled.
She smiled without a hair on her head because hers was stolen by the chemotherapy.
She smiled with cancer in her body that spread from her leg through her knee and into her pelvis.
She smiled because in three weeks she will meet teen music sensation Justin Bieber at a concert in Charlotte.
“If somebody needs that money so bad, I sure would give it to them,” Emily said. “After the first jar was stolen, I said the same thing. Maybe someday I will meet them, and I can give them some money to help them so they don’t have to try and steal.”
Emily, in a world of some who would rob from sick children, refuses to be like them.
After The Herald’s coverage of the first jar theft, donations poured in from across America.
The Kumar family at Scott’s Food Store at Heckle Boulevard and Cherry Road, where the first jar was stolen, threw a benefit barbecue and raised almost $3,000. There were motorcycle benefits and more.
People sickened by the theft of $70 given to a kid with cancer gave thousands of dollars more to her.
Emily’s response: Take most of the money and give it to others.
She helped with a toy drive for other children at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, where Emily and others fighting horrible diseases celebrate Christmas with IV poles and breathing machines instead of stockings. Scores of people filled a trailer with toys for those kids.
When Emily saw before Christmas that the Angel Tree at the BP store on U.S. 21 near her home – there is a donation jar there, too – did not have enough sponsors, she asked if the money left from the toy drive could go to those children. She and her family bought presents for 15 kids Emily will never meet.
“They needed a Christmas more than I did,” Emily said.
Jennifer Bass, the manager at the BP store, was amazed.
“Emily bought nice presents, expensive things, for those kids,” Bass said. “She is so sweet and caring. She could barely walk herself, and she is worried that another child has Christmas.”
Emily then took some money and bought coats, hats, socks, blankets and more and had it dropped off at a shelter for the homeless.
“She just kept on giving everything that she had,” said Emily’s mother.
Then, a couple days before Christmas, Emily’s father tried to give her $100 for the holiday. Like all dads, he never buys the right stuff for a teenaged girl.
Emily refused to accept the money, because her father had told her that a coworker of his had a brain tumor. The coworker has a daughter not even a year old. Emily even threw in more money.
“My little girl told me to take all the money and give it to that family,” said Paul Elkins, who is as a big as the state Department of Transportation trucks he fixes but still cries when he talks about the generosity of his daughter.
Emily doesn’t really understand what all the fuss is about. She is just a 14-year-old who sends a million text messages a day and talks to her friends, who can’t wait to beat cancer so she can grow back her hair for the next time she meets Justin Bieber.
“So many people were so nice, so generous to me, and I never even met most of them,” Emily said. “I just figured if I find out somebody needs something, I should try my best for them. I can’t let a child not have Christmas. I had toys when I was small. Little kids need toys.
“I don’t like that some people hurt or are cold or they are hungry. I have to help them.”
She helps them as she fights for her own life.
And she does all this as a thief tries to steal a milk jug filled with change and loose bills, months after a different jar was stolen.
There are no suspects yet in the latest crime. But the store surveillance video shows the snake slink in, duck and tug on the jug.
“I don’t even think that person knows that if they had cancer, they would be thankful for what they do have, not try and take something from someone else,” Emily said.
Just before Christmas, Emily was invited to meet the University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team at a dinner for children with illnesses. The ballplayers were stunned at what they heard Emily had endured, and her generosity to others. Emily asked for autographs from several star players.
One player, crying, said to Emily, “I ought to be asking you for an autograph.”
Emily’s mother said her daughter’s generosity, her will to live, her fight to survive while helping others, shows that the attempt to steal the milk jug and even the donation jar in July is “a drop in the bucket.”
“A thief doesn’t even register on the radar when Emily is doing all this,” Annie Brakefield said. “The jug is a symbol of someone stealing. But it is not what Emily is all about.”
Her dad described the last six months as “the most important lessons I ever learned.”
“My daughter has taught me more about guts, and courage, and how to be good to people than I ever knew there was in this world,” Paul Elkins said.
As for Emily, she just finished radiation treatments. Chemotherapy will go on for months. The prognosis is good, yet guarded.
But first, Justin Bieber.
The nurses at the children’s hospital chipped in to buy the tickets after Emily sang for them during her long stays. Emily would just go on and on about how cute and handsome Bieber is. The tickets will allow Emily and her mom to meet the superstar before the show.
“I love him,” Emily said. “I want to give him a big hug.”
Her face, thin and gaunt, filled the room with a smiled that glowed.
“Oh boy,” sighed her father, whose teenaged daughter wants to hug a boy and admits it.
Emily has a courage bracelet, and a T-shirt about courage and more to give to Bieber when she meets him.
“I don’t want anything from him or anybody,” she said. “I just want to show him he has a big huge fan.”
Justin Bieber is a millionaire with millions of fans. But if a kid needs a present, or a thief needs some money, or a millionaire needs some courage, Emily Elkins who has cancer will happily give it to all.