Winter Harbor Police Chief Makes Xmas Memory By Returning Camera
"To have that effect on someone, in such a particular way...It's a good feeling....It's one of the things I like best about the job; I like helping people."
That's what Winter Harbor Police Chief Danny Mitchell told me when I called him asking about a post he had put up on the Winter Harbor Police Department Facebook page.
Originally, when I read the post, I thought it was a really sweet story. But after hearing the details that weren't mentioned in the post, the entire account of how this all went down, I got chills. If this isn't one of the best things you'll read about online today, then I don't know what is.
Let's start at the beginning.
Danny Mitchell grew up and has spent most of his 48 years on this earth in the Gouldsboro/Winter Harbor area. More than 20 of those years have been working in law enforcement. Needless to say, he's gotten to know a few of the neighborhood folks along the way.
Mitchell took over as chief of police in Winter Harbor in 2016.
Now, aside from the action-packed job of fighting crime and enforcing laws, one of the lesser known tasks that a chief of police has been known to take on is tidying up around the station; making sure everything is in order, as it should be. And that's just what Chief Mitchell was doing in a supply closet recently, when he came across an old digital camera that was sitting on a shelf. Being a professional investigator, he looked for clues as to what this camera was doing in that closet, and who it might belong to.
The only lead he had to go on was a tag that read "Found on Newman St." He scoured the pockets of the case it had come with, and discovered a small memory card. And when he checked the camera itself, he found another one.
With his curiosity piqued, Chief Mitchell did what professionals like him do best; he used the tools at his disposal to dig a little further for information.
He took the cards to a computer. One of the first images to come up was of a car. The picture was taken at a bit of an angle, so he had to blow it up. But after some work, he was able to get a licence plate number, which he then ran through his database. But that plate wasn't in the system.
As he scrolled through some of the other images, he noticed quite a few were of the same lady. Having grown up in the area, he recognized the woman in the pictures as the wife of his old basketball coach, and the mom of some kids he had grown up with. Her name was Ellen Duke. Unfortunately, Mitchell remembered that Mrs. Duke had passed away about a year ago. Having experienced the loss of his own mother a few years ago he rightly figured that Ellen's daughter Veronica Grinnan (who lived nearby in Sullivan) was probably missing her mom as the holiday season started to get into full swing.
Now, Chief Mitchell will tell you that he doesn't have a personal Facebook page because more often than not, there's not a lot of "good" stuff on there. But he knew his wife had one. So he took a screenshot of one of the pictures of Ellen Duke which he had come across. It was a quirky little shot of Duke holding a little red bird on her hand. He figured his wife might be able to track down Grinnan via her Facebook page, so he sent his wife the screenshot. Mitchell's wife made contact with Duke's daughter and sent her the picture. Once it was confirmed, the couple drove almost immediately to Grinnan's house in Sullivan to return the camera.
Chief Mitchell says that he won't soon forget Veronica Grinnan's tearful yet joyful reaction to having that camera returned. And when I asked him why he took those extra steps and went the extra mile to return the camera to it's rightful owner, he said:
"If I can bring something to resolution, I will always go the extra mile."
But returning the camera was only half of the resolution Mitchell helped facilitate that day.
What the Mitchells didn't know, but would later find out through Grinnan, was that this camera, and that photo of Grinnan's mom with the bird, had become almost legendary in her family.
You see, as Grinnan told the Mitchells, her mom and dad loved birds, and had several bird houses in their yard. And her mom would often claim that this one little red bird would come out of nowhere and perch right on her finger. But no one in Duke's family believed her. So she had snapped a picture, as proof, on this little digital camera.
Fast forward a little while and somehow, Duke's husband ended up with the camera, and one day left it on the roof of the car as he drove away and it flew off and was lost. It was actually a bit of a joke that her dad had pulled such a knuckle-headed move and lost the only evidence supporting her mom's outlandish tale of taming a small winged creature.
And now, after all these years of sitting on a shelf, through happenstance, Ellen Duke's claim was finally validated! It's as if she reached out from the great beyond to set the record straight, and perhaps offer some motherly comfort, in a humorous way, to her grieving daughter.
Stunned by the entire experience, and the role he got to play in it, Chief Mitchell posted some of the story on the Winter Harbor Police Department's Facebook page. And like great stories like this often do, the post went viral.
When I asked Mitchell how he felt about all of the attention, and having a hand in making such an amazing Christmas memory for one of the citizens he'd grown up with and was now serving and protecting, he simply said:
"To know that I could be a part of giving her some peace...that feels good."
Good work, Chief Mitchell.
I think you can classify this case as officially closed!