The mystery of a missing U-Haul ended with the truck back in the company parking lot and nearly all of a family’s precious belongings dumped — a blunder U-Haul calls “regrettable” and the family describes as a “punch in the gut.”
Shirley and Stan Brown packed up their whole life into a U-Haul for their move to Florida so they could be closer to family, according to the Browns’ GoFundMe. During their move, they stowed the U-Haul at a Holiday Inn in Clearwater while the house was getting set up.
On Sept. 4, when the Browns came to check on the U-Haul, it was gone.
Many of the items inside were invaluable, including family heirlooms, a marriage license, family photos, items from grandparents and more, according to the family’s GoFundMe, which was closed Sept. 16.
The Browns were moving from St. Louis to Tampa Bay, according to WFLA. The family hunkered down at a snowbird apartment while they waited to move into their house.
Once the family realized the truck was gone, they reported it stolen to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Browns told FOX13.
After several days of working with the police and asking the public for help, there was still no sign of the truck.
But the truck wasn’t stolen by thieves — it was repossessed by U-Haul after a misunderstanding, the company said in a statement.
When a local U-Haul team noticed the truck parked at the hotel, it was “mistakenly identified as abandoned equipment and repossessed” on Sept. 2, the company told McClatchy News.
After U-Haul took back the truck, it held the belongings at its Clearwater location for 10 days and attempted to contact the Browns, but was unable to get in touch because it was referencing the wrong contact information.
“U-Haul management has been in contact with the Brown family,” U-Haul told McClatchy News. “Our U-Haul Company of Clearwater president visited the family on Thursday morning to deliver several boxes of personal contents that were kept when their larger items were disposed.”
U-Haul added that it was an “extremely rare and regrettable series of events” for which it takes “full responsibility,” and offered its apologies to the Browns.
The Browns told FOX13 that they were grateful for the five boxes U-Haul returned to them, but it was only a quarter of what was packed into the truck.
“It was a real punch in the gut after a very extreme emotional roller coaster ride. My children have been experiencing this same harmful emotional churn. U-Haul had told us that their employees would not/did not go through boxes, but one of these five boxes is a compilation of four other boxes,” the Browns told FOX13 in a statement. “Either U-Haul or PC Solid Waste employees did go through boxes. We definitely wonder how much of our belongings and information did not make it into the incinerator and are in someone’s hands and not ours.”
Clearwater is about 25 miles west of Tampa.