When Turlock resident Juliana Melgoza was notified last Sunday that her stolen car had been located by police in Modesto, naturally, she figured that some of the items that had been in her vehicle would be missing.
“And they were,” said the mother of four.
But Melgoza never suspected that her daughter’s specialized wheelchair would be one of those items.
Melgoza’s youngest child, Miracle, a 7-year-old second-grader who attends Julien Elementary School, suffers from spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal column don’t form properly.
Without her wheelchair, the non-verbal Miracle cannot go to school, she can’t easily go outside, and she can’t move around her home without assistance from older brothers Gabriel, 17, and Joseph, 11.
“They didn’t just steal her wheelchair,” said Melgoza. “They stole her independence. I mean, it’s affected every aspect of her life.”
Sunday morning, as Melgoza was getting her children ready for church, her 8-year-old daughter Diamond looked out the window and said, “Mommy, our car’s not outside.”
A neighbor’s doorbell camera showed activity at around 4:30 a.m., just about four hours earlier. The vehicle was located a few hours after the family noticed it was missing, thanks to the Elo GPS system.
The wheelchair has been customized to fit Miracle’s very specific needs and can’t easily be replaced.
“It’s not electric, it’s a tiny, little, pediatric chair that has her name stitched on the headrest,” said Melgoza. “It has a side support, hip support. It’s custom measured to Miracle’s body. It would be difficult to rebuild and it’s tough to replace expeditiously.”
The family is in the process of seeking a new residence. Even that endeavor becomes difficult without the wheelchair.
“I can’t even go tour homes because I have no idea if her wheelchair will fit in the new home or will easily roll over the floors,” said Melgoza.
So far, the community seems to be rallying to the family’s aid.
Over $3,000 of a $10,000 goal has been raised on the family’s GoFundMe page (search “Miracle Melgoza”). And the Turlock Associated Peace Officers donated $1,000 to the family, according to Sgt. Mike Parmley of the Turlock Police Department.
Melgoza figures she dropped her key fob Saturday while carrying in groceries from the family’s 2019 Volkswagen Atlas.
“That’s what I’m assuming happened at this point,” said Melgoza, a native of the Bay Area who’s lived in the region for more than a decade.
The vehicle was discovered in south Modesto — “parked and locked,” said Melgoza with a chuckle. She got the car back Friday.
“If you can donate, great, but I really hope everybody can circulate Miracle’s story,” said Melgoza. “I’m hoping for as much exposure as I can get. Hopefully, they’ll be shamed into returning the chair.
“I hope they stop to realize, ‘This is where I’m at in my life. I stole a wheelchair from a single mother and her child.’ I hope it causes them to grow a conscience and, maybe, turn their life around. I really do.”
She’s hoping for a miracle … for Miracle.