The first time Kelly Potis lost her blue-eyed baby Frankie was in 2002, when a bone-marrow transplant failed and the 13-month-old boy died of leukemia.
The second time was last Sunday, when somebody broke into her SUV in a Tacoma parking lot and stole his ashes.
“I’m just sick about it,” Potis said Thursday at her apartment in University Place. “My first thought was, ‘I just lost him again.’”
Potis blames herself, but it wasn’t her fault.
She’d had the ashes sealed in mementos for Frankie’s brother and sister – a small angel statue for Dylan, now 25, and a cross-shaped locket for Gracie, 11.
On March 16 – the day that would have been Frankie’s 13th birthday – she’d planned a small ceremony at Dylan’s home in Lakewood to present the gifts. On the way, she stopped for a bottle of water at a 7-Eleven store near South 38th and Junett streets.
She hid her purse under the passenger seat and locked the door, but when she came back just minutes later, the door was slightly ajar and the purse was gone.
“I should have taken it with me,” she said.
Potis’ driver’s license, credit cards, checkbook and $150 cash are gone, too, but all she really cares about is the ashes.
Her greatest fear is that the thief took the money and credit cards and threw the rest in the garbage.
“The police said nine times out of 10 that’s what they do,” Potis said. “The thought that Frankie was thrown in a Dumpster on his birthday just breaks my heart.”
She and her son Dylan, a soldier just recently back from Afghanistan, have searched all the Dumpsters in the area, without success, she said.
“I feel like the crazy lady because every time I see a Dumpster I jump out and look in it,” she said. “But if I don’t look, then I may miss the one where it is.”
Potis is hoping that somebody else will spot the purse. It’s a brown leather Roxy bag with a brown leather strap. Gracie’s pendant is silver and about an inch-and-a-half high. The statue is about three inches high and is the image of an angel wearing a backward baseball cap.
“I think that anyone who would have seen it in the garbage would probably be curious enough to pick it up,” she said.
Frankie has been in the news before. His startling blue eyes and charismatic personality made him a poster child for leukemia awareness causes, including the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
In 2008, the annual “Big Climb” of Seattle’s 76-story Columbia Tower was dedicated to Frankie. The Potis’ have been faithful fundraisers ever since Frankie’s death. They and other “Frankie’s Fans” participate every year and in 2008 they set the record for single-day contributions to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society with a total of more than $88,000.
This year’s Big Climb will be Sunday, and the Potis family and Frankie’s Fans will be there again.
Sarah Ferguson, the former duchess of York, was so taken with Frankie’s photo in the days after he died that she participated in a charity contest sponsored by a New York radio station. Thanks to her, the Potis’ won first prize: $10,000 and a new 2002 Thunderbird – which the family promptly donated to Mary Bridge Childrens’ Hospital.
“They were just wonderful to Frankie there,” Potis said. “Everybody in this community was just so wonderful.”
“I think people are mainly good,” she said. “Maybe the person who took it was somebody who didn’t have any other choices.”
“I’m not at the point where I’m thinking, we won’t get it back,” she said. “I’m thinking we will definitely get it back.”
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693