Cathy Scoppo's heart sank the moment she noticed the U.S. flag that had draped the casket of her World War II veteran father had gone missing while on display at the upstate New York campground she manages.
But on Monday, the nation's 240th birthday, Scoppo emotionally celebrated news that the flag was headed her way, days after police 1,700 miles away in southwestern Missouri got it back from a teenager they suspect pilfered it while visiting the campsite.
"I can't wait to touch it," Scoppo, 60, told The Associated Press by telephone, her voice cracking through tears.
Scoppo and her family always held the flag in the greatest of reverence since that 1969 day it covered the coffin of Michael Cowley, the Army Air Force corporal during World War II who was just 47 when he died of cancer.
Scoppo put that flag up, along with those of all U.S. military branches and one honoring prisoners of war, at the family's Cherry Grove Campground near Wolcott, New York, about 45 minutes from Syracuse. The plan to keep those flags flying until Independence Day unraveled June 2, when Scoppo noticed while walking her dog that the memorial flag was gone.
Scoppo called around to see if someone well-intentioned perhaps had taken it down to spare it from rain, but her inquiries turned up nothing.
"I was just heartbroken," she said. "When I went back to our motor home, I was literally sobbing."
After posting the disappearance on Facebook, Scoppo was approached by a woman whose granddaughter, while staying at the campsite, got a text traced to a Missouri teenager, implicating himself as the culprit.
Scoppo said her efforts to work out the matter herself with the teenager's parents were rebuffed. So last Wednesday, she turned to local authorities who reached out to police in 1,500-resident Willard, giving them the teenager's name. Willard police confronted the teen, who insisted he'd stashed it near the campground -- tips that proved bogus.
The teenager eventually buckled, admitting he gave the stars and stripes to someone else in Willard. The boy retrieved it, then turned it over to Willard police Friday.
Willard investigators said the matter has been referred to authorities in juvenile court, though there was no immediate word whether charges had been filed as of Monday.
"I don't have any malice in my heart," Scoppo said, preferring that the teenager be held accountable. "Yes, I understand he probably didn't know what the flag meant to my family. On the other hand, it's an American flag, and it should have been held in the highest regard, just for that purpose."