A Gurnee father was helping his 16-year-old son walk out to meet the school bus early Friday morning after bringing his wheelchair outside when he realized someone had stolen his son's most useful tool for independence.
Marlon Tapang, a student at Warren Township High School, has cerebral palsy and relies on that customized sports wheelchair for nearly everything he does, said his mother, Jarka, Monday afternoon.
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"I put his backpack on the wheelchair seat with his lunchbox," Jarka Tapang said. "His father moved it ahead, put it in the middle of the driveway, then walked Marlon out from the kitchen through the garage."
In that short time, between 6:20 and 6:25 Friday morning, someone stole the wheelchair that will cost more than $5,000 to replace, Marlon's mother said.
She said the family got Marlon the wheelchair about two years ago after an exhaustive fight with their insurance company, which eventually agreed to help pay for it.
"We sweat for that chair. It took time to make it. We have to travel, customize it for his size," Jarka Tapang said. "The process with the payments, it was a long one. Finally everything was done, and now we've lost it."
Not only did Marlon lose the independence his wheelchair allowed him, nut he also lost his schoolwork for final exams, which are this week.
Jarka Tapang said her son is able to walk short distances with a walker, but that chair gave him the freedom to hang out with friends at the mall and even play basketball.
A sports group for disabled youth in the area donated a temporary chair to Marlon on Monday morning, but his mother said the process of having a new chair made specifically for him is a long one.
"You cannot buy it, you have to make it, and it takes time and summer is coming now," Jarka Tapang said.
She said the family filed a police report on Friday, but there have not been any arrest made as of Monday afternoon. Police told the family they suspect someone may have grabbed the wheelchair and sold it as scrap metal.
Police said they have no suspects in the case.
"I said this is the end of the world on Friday," Jarka Tapang said. "Not Saturday like some people were saying."