It was a miserably cold, rainy night in San Francisco.
My business partner Cristy and I were taking the last red-eye flight of the night and had passed through airport security (TSA) when I noticed that my leather laptop bag felt unusually light. I frantically zipped it open to find that my MacBook pro – the most important business and personal possession of my life – was missing. I asked Cristy if she was playing a joke on me but after she said no, I immediately sprinted back to TSA, 10 minutes before boarding time.
TSA staff and supervisors quickly initiated a bin-by-bin search for my laptop but they couldn’t find it.
“It doesn’t make sense,” I told the TSA supervisor. “I was here just minutes ago. It’s literally disappeared, unless someone stole it.” The supervisor told me that they only had one more thing to do: look at the recorded security video. I gave her the approximate time I crossed the security area and her team began the search.
Meanwhile, Cristy’s worried. “What’s going on?!!!” she asks.
“My laptop is missing and they don’t seem to know what happened to it,” I tell her.
“Well, they’re delaying this flight by 20 minutes,” she said.
I look at my watch. “Ok, just try to delay the flight as long as you can and keep me posted. I don’t want to miss this flight.”
When I turn back to the TSA supervisor she says that they found video of somebody taking my laptop. Because of TSA rules, she says she can’t say anything more right now.
“Do you want us to call the police?,” she asks. “They can come here pretty quick to file a report and start a search.”
“Yes, I guess I have to,” I said. “I need to try to get this laptop back.”
“Look,” she said, “You may miss tonight’s flight but it may be worth it. The three times I’ve seen this happen we’ve recovered the stolen items each time.”
“Well, can you please tell me who took this?,” I ask her. “What does he look like or what he’s wearing? I just want to know who we’re looking for.”
“Sorry but we can’t do that. The police would have to do that.”
As the minutes pass by, I’m starting to feel very concerned but not panicked. In the heat of the moment, the most depressing thing I know is that I have not backed up my laptop in nine months. If the laptop is not recovered, critical and irreplaceable business and personal information will be lost forever so quietly I pray to God and hope. I feel like I’m looking at this situation through a cameras lens. This can’t possibly be happening to me but I’m calm.
Three bikes then race into the security area with burly police officers, including a pudgy-faced Chinese-American cop who’s clearly the boss. I’ll call him Sgt. Chang.
Sgt. Chang is starting to take my name and notes about what happened when three more officers show up on bikes, on foot and on a Segway. Now there’s six cops on the case.
My immediate reaction, is “Wow. All this police attention for a stolen laptop? San Francisco police really takes this seriously.”
A few minutes later another cop approaches us with a smartphone in her hand. She shows Sgt. Chang a photo of the suspect. They tell me I can’t view the photo but I lunge for a peek anyway and they don’t push me back.
The photo is a screenshot of a blurred video image. It’s a terrible photo except for the fact that the man is wearing a bright red long sleeve shirt with a grey vest and a black backpack. He looks to be in his late 40s.
“Can you give us any photos of the suspect?,” one of the bicycle cops asks Sgt. Chang.
“No, we don’t have any. We only have a cellphone photo. Go with the description you have,” Sgt. Chang says.
As the seven cops disperse on foot, bikes and Segway, I call Cristy to update her.
“The cops are searching the whole terminal. I’m going to see if I can just fill out the police report and leave with you.”
Sgt. Chang hears me and immediately chimes in: “If you want to find your laptop you’re going to have to stay.”
“But I live in Miami and my flight is about to leave,” I tell him.
“Well, if we find it, we will need you here. I don’t think you’ll be able to go on your flight but I will call JetBlue to see what they can do for you,” he says.
A JetBlue representative appears and says that rainy, windy weather has delayed the flight and that he will try to hold the flight for me a little more if possible but not much more once they start boarding.
The TSA supervisor, an African American woman in her late 50s, approaches me to say, “I really hope we find your laptop. I know that it means so much to you.”
“Thank you,” I say to her. “It’s very nice to know you guys are really trying hard to help me.”
As I walk back to Sgt. Chang, I hear another cop’s voice over the Sgt.’s shoulder radio. I can’t understand what he’s saying but Sgt. Chang tells him, “yes, we want both. The laptop and the man.”
He glances at me without even hinting that anything is happening. Seeing that he didn’t say anything to me about possibly catching a suspect, I continue to stand near him, quietly staring into the distant terminal.
Suddenly a group of six officers appear in the terminal holding an Asian man in his late 40s. The apparent suspect is quiet and gazing down at the floor. He fits the profile of the thief. As he gets closer to us, one of the cops stops the man and handcuffs him about 20-feet in front of me.
Still in disbelief about how quickly this all unfolded, I think to myself, “Oh my God, is this really him? I hope they didn’t stop an innocent man.”
Another officer then takes the man’s black backpack and races it to a table near me for inspection. He pulls out a Mac laptop and lifts the screen open. An email with my signature appears on screen.
I am ecstatic.
When I look at the man who stole my laptop, I feel empathy. He looks like a depressed, humiliated man. If I met him on the street, I would say he was an educator or a scientist.
“Do you want to press charges?”, an officer asks me.
“No, I don’t want to press charges,” I tell the officer. “All I want is to tell him something.”
“Well, we can’t let you do that,” the officer tells me.
“I promise. I’m not going to hurt him or say anything bad to him. On the contrary, I want him to know that as a Christian, I want to forgive him.”
“Well, I don’t think we can let you speak with the suspect,” the officer says firmly.
As I begin to fill out more paperwork, another officer approaches me.
“He would like to speak with you too. You can speak with him.”
The suspect is sitting down handcuffed, with his head bowed to the floor, when another officer and I walk up to him. He immediately glances up to me.
“I want to say that I’m very sorry and humiliated for what I did to you,” he says to me. “I have never done something more stupid or wrong in my life.”
“Thank you,” I said to him. “I’m not pressing charges.”
“YOU HEARD THAT!!!?,” an officer immediately chimes in to say to the suspect. “You OWE HIM BIG FOR THIS, MISTER.!”
“No, you don’t,” I say interrupting. “I’m a Christian and I believe in forgiving you. Just pay it forward. I think you need to ask God to forgive you and to help you. Tonight you really could have hurt me and my family but all I ask is that you talk to God about this.”
“Thank you very much,” he said to me.
“What is your name?”, I said to him.
“Urson,” he said.
“Well Urson, I’m Manny Ruiz,” I said to him, tapping him on his left shoulder.
“God bless you.”
With that I turned around and began to salute each and every police officer and TSA agent in the JetBlue terminal of San Francisco International Airport.
“I promise to tell everyone everything you guys did for me here tonight. Amazing job guys! Who can I say helped me? TSA?”
“TSA and the San Francisco Police Department,” shouted one of the officers.
“TSA and San Francisco Police Department, it is!” I said.
Finally I approached the gruff-looking Sgt. Chang and before he could get away from me, I gave him a strong shoulder hug as the other officers laughed. “I know you’re Mr. Serious Cop on the outside but I can tell that on the inside you’re Mr. Joker. My brother’s a cop.”
With that, off I went sprinting to catch my long delayed JetBlue flight, which I caught with 10 minutes to spare.
Miserable, cold, windy weather prevented my flight – and ALL that terminal’s planes, including Urson’s – from even boarding and taking off on time that night but this was a night of destiny. I may never know what the Lord’s ultimate purpose was for what transpired that night but what I am sure about is that on this strange, blustery night God put His mysterious purposes to work in several people’s lives and somehow He may even want you to know about it.