Tennessee mother pleads with thief to return late daughter's rattle

Avelyn Pickel / Photo: WCYB

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WCYB) - Heartbreaking moments for a young mother in Johnson City, after a toy belonging to her late daughter was stolen.

Somer Pickel, 30, is a nurse at the Veteran Affairs Hospital in Johnson City. She can replace the government-issues key card and backpack a thief took from her car Sunday night, but attached to the bag is a rattle belonging to her daughter, Avelyn, who passed away at the age of 18 months from a congenital heart defect.

"Especially having a child who went through such traumatic events and lived such a difficult life, anything that has joyful memories attached to it, and positivity attached to it, becomes especially meaningful," Pickel told WCYB.

Reporter: "What do you think you learned most from Avelyn?"

"I saw a lot that she was the absolute best of us," Pickel said. "There were multiple times that my daughter was dying in my arms before she actually died in my arms. But through all of that, there aren't any regrets on how beautiful a human she was. She was just as lovely and special as any other baby."

Reporter: If you could look the thief right in the eyes, what would you say?'

"I know it's a rattle, and I know that it being gone doesn't lessen our memory of her, it doesn't lessen the greatness of her," Pickel said. "And life will go on if it never comes back. But it would be really great to have it back."

Now, Somer and her husband, Sean, are expecting their second child, which came with surprise and fear.

"We stargaze a lot, and especially talk about Avelyn. We used to tell her about the stars a lot. It seemed like this one star was extremely bright and shining all the colors of the rainbow. So I looked it up, and it ended up being in the constellation Lira. It just really seemed like that's what she wanted our little rainbow baby to be named was Lira. So that's her sister's name," Pickel said."

And even with the risk even higher now to have a child with congenital heart disease, Somer pushed for more awareness around the disease that is more common than childhood cancer but receives only a fraction of the research and funding.

"You know, we have hope because we have to," Pickel said. "You can't live in darkness and you can't live in despair if we're going to honor Avelyn. That's now where she is. She's out in the light."

Pickel told police her car was probably unlocked at the time of the theft. Johnson City Police say there have been 100 vehicle thefts over the past three months, only 10 involved forced entry.

Project Heart is a non-profit that works to fund research to cure all types of congenital heart disease. A research grant was named after Avelyn.

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