Audrey Parks was like a second mother to Sharon Cochraham. Cochraham and Parks’s daughter Ingrid were best friends from the time Cochraham was 11 years old, so Parks almost raised her.

When Parks died, Cochraham had one memento to hold onto: Parks’s rosary, which she had prayed on so faithfully that she had worn the Jesus figurine right off the cross.

Then, on a Tuesday night last month, Cochraham, 69, left a beauty parlor and walked to her car in a Fairfax County parking lot. Right after she dropped her purse onto the passenger seat, a thief opened the passenger-side door and grabbed it — running away with not only Cochraham’s wallet, but also the treasured rosary beads.

Now she has a new rosary to pray on, thanks to a thoughtful Fairfax County police officer.

Officer Matthew Pleva reported to the Hair Cuttery on Richmond Highway on the night that Cochraham’s purse was stolen there. He found her waiting at her car, distressed by her close encounter with the unexpected thief. He helped her calm down, and he wrote down a list of what was in her purse: her driver’s license, credit cards, $3, her glasses, the rosary.

And then, to Cochraham’s great surprise, Pleva rang her doorbell in Alexandria that Saturday.

“You can’t go to Mass tomorrow without a rosary,” he said to her. He had bought a new one just for her. It’s rose-colored, she said, and beautiful.

“I couldn’t believe that. I really couldn’t,” Cochraham said. “He has the sweetest smile. His smile brought me peace.”


Cochraham wrote this letter to thank Pleva. (Courtesy of Fairfax County Police Department)

Her purse turned up less than two hours after it was stolen, abandoned between the Denny’s and the Taco Bell on Richmond Highway, just a mile south of the parking lot in the 6700 block where it was stolen. The thief didn’t get too much. He took $3, the only cash that was inside. He took her credit cards but only made one purchase before she shut them down. He took her glasses. And he took the rosary.

The purse and the wallet he left behind, and police got them back to her that same night. “He sounds like a really dumb robber. I’m serious. It was a brand-new Coach purse and wallet that my grandkids gave me for Christmas,” Cochraham said.

Now she can keep enjoying her grandchildren’s gift, and Pleva’s gift as well. Cochraham said she started praying on the new rosary that Sunday, and she devoted some of her thoughts to Pleva. “How kind he was,” she said. “What a gentleman.”

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