Open letter to Johnny Ray Kendricks, Inmate 00181593 at the S.C. Department of Corrections:
A little girl died Wednesday night.
Her name was Emily Elkins.
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You stole her donation jar.
And she forgave you.
"If he needed the money more than me, I would have given it to him," Emily said. "I would have raised more and given him more."
At around the same time that lights go out in the prison, 9:45 pm on March 11, as you work on your 15 year sentence for stealing, the last light of Emily Elkins' life flickered.
At age 16, after fighting cancer for close to four years, Emily could not fight anymore. Emily Elkins, the girl who said after you stole a donation jar with $70 in it from a Rock Hill convenience store in the summer of 2012 that she would have given you the money, you didn't have to steal it, died.
That crime, and her grace, gave the world a chance to meet Emily.
The world was better to know her.
Emily Elkins forgave you a long time ago.
She never stopped praying for you, and helping others, after she became a celebrity because you stole her jar using a bucket to hide the jar as you snatched it off the counter then ran off.
That crime defines you. It did not define her.
"I am here to help other kids who don't have what I have," Emily said not long ago, after another of countless hospital visits. "I have to give. I have to try."
Because after that day, Emily spent the next three years-plus spending all her time, her energy that was not chemotherapy and treatment and trying to stay alive, helping others because of what you did.
After The Herald's coverage of the theft, long before police caught you, her story spread across the country and donations poured in. Emily gave it all away to needy kids, bought Christmas presents for them, purchased blankets and coats and food for the homeless and broke and needy.
She bought an entire Angel Tree of presents for people at a store she stopped in for a Coke.
She did this while cancer ate away at her.
The only thing she kept was a ticket, and limo ride, to see Justin Bieber in concert in 2013. Bieber was supposed to meet the sick girl, Emily. He did not.
Emily forgave him, too.
When you pleaded guilty to stealing the donation jar, and other crimes, and received 15 years in prison, Emily asked the judge to give you the mercy you did not give her or anybody else.
Emily Elkins knew how to forgive. She even forgave cancer that took her life.
She forgave it by giving to other every day she lived.
Emily, with her mother, Annie Brakefield, and her father, Paul Elkins, and others such as the Dragonfly Sisters, coordinated motorcycle rides to collect toys for sick kids and kids without parents and special needs kids and disabled kids.
The last one, before Christmas, there were so many toys Emily needed a rented truck to carry it all.
She gave it all away.
"I want every child to have a Christmas," Emily said then.
She said it after the cancer that supposedly had gone into remission came back. It started in her leg at age 12, and ended in her body.
Cancer, unlike Emily, refused to forgive.
Many times Emily allowed The Herald to share what she did with the world. She shared until she died.
Emily was the honorary coach for the Winthrop women's basketball team last year in a game. Her response was to help the team collect toys for needy kids.
That was Emily.
"Emily never thought about herself first," her mother, Annie Brakefield, said.
When York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant heard that Emily wanted to be a CSI when she grew up, he invited her to be one at his office. She worked a case just weeks ago.
"Emily wanted to help people, that is who she is," said her father, Paul Elkins.
Then three weeks ago, South Pointe High School, knowing that the end was near, and that Emily likely would never see graduation, awarded Emily her diploma.
Emily thanked everyone, and took no credit, and asked the school and her uncountable friends to help others make their dreams come true.
Saturday, the latest motorcycle fundraiser by the Dragonfly Sisters was scheduled for 2 p.m at Jokers on Neelys Creek Road. All proceeds to charity, as Emily demanded of all she did.
Emily kept nothing. She gave all.
Saturday that ride and charity event will go on.
That donation jar you stole from Emily, catapulted a sick little girl into a public figure for helping others.
Emily Elkins may have died at 9:45 Wednesday night, but Emily Elkins' life, and what she did that started with the forgiveness from that stolen jar filled with change, will live forever.