CULLMAN, Ala. (WIAT) — Danae Hays decided to give her grandmother a call Monday night to check up on her. The two have always been extremely close and have grown closer in some ways since her grandfather’s death some nine years ago. Danae called it a “special bond.”
“Since I was a kid, my grandmother has been the epitome of the best grandmother a kid could have,” she said. “When I was 8 years old, she bought me, honest to God, $500 worth of Pokemon cards because I was obsessed with Pokemon.”
But this routine call was anything but, and Danae could tell right away that something was wrong.
Nearly a week before the call, Danae’s grandmother, Mary Jane, had gone shopping at the Walmart off exit 304 in Cullman. After checking out just after 2 p.m., Mary Jane got all the way home before she realized that her load was a little lighter.
Her purse was nowhere to be found and after consulting with Walmart’s lost and found section, it was quickly determined that someone had taken the bag. But Mary Jane didn’t care about the bag, the driver’s license or the money inside. All she cared about was her now missing wedding ring.
In 58 years, Mary Jane had never even thought about taking her ring off, according to Danae. Even after her husband’s death, she always kept him with her.
“As a kid, I always would poke fun at her because she had an indention around her finger,” Danae said. “I was like, ‘Grandmother you need to take that thing off so your finger can breathe.”
Despite the protests from her granddaughter, Mary Jane never removed it, until just days before it was stolen. She had been stung by a bee on her hand which led to her ring finger swelling significantly. A local jeweler eventually cut the bottom of the gold band which allowed Mary Jane to take the ring off. She placed it in a plastic bag and then put it in her purse with every intention to put the ring right where it belonged once the swelling went down.
Just days after that, however, Mary Jane spilled coffee inside of her purse thus leaving her no choice but to hastily grab her phone, wallet and keys to ensure they weren’t damaged. She then left the purse out to dry. The ring remained inside the purse until the fateful afternoon in Walmart.
“It was like the perfect storm,” Danae said.
Mary Jane held off on telling her granddaughter anything about the ring for several days as to not upset Danae because of the relationship she had with her grandfather. But all Danae could think about was how much the ring meant to Mary Jane.
“That ring, to her, was the last physical thing she had to remind her of my grandfather every day,” Danae said. “It’s just a very emotionally charged and triggering thing because of how much value that ring was for her.”
Now filled with emotion herself, Danae decided to use her voice to find the stolen piece of jewelry.
Danae, a former Alabama softball player who played a key role in the Crimson Tide’s 2012 College World Series win, has amassed a significant social media following in the years since she left Tuscaloosa. She has over 130,000 followers on Instagram and 1.4 million followers on TikTok where she posts comedy videos of her performing standup or playing her alter ego, a character by the name of Sharon Jean, an over-the-top caricature of a southern woman.
Just moments after the call ended with Mary Jane, Danae took to TikTok, where she posted a tearful video asking her followers to spread the word and help find the ring.
“I just felt like the least I could do to repay my grandmother back for everything she’s done in my life is to talk about it and stir some news up in hopes that somebody comes forward and drops it all,” she said.
The video has been viewed over 209,000 times as of Tuesday afternoon and several individuals living in the Cullman area have already reached out looking to help. One woman even volunteered to go “dumpster diving” at the Walmart location in hopes of finding the ring.
The outpouring of support from social media has struck a chord with Danae, but she says she isn’t surprised and called it the “Alabama Way.”
“It’s really like if you mess with us, we’re going to come back fighting,” she said.
Danae says that she and her grandmother just want the ring back — no questions asked. She said no charges will be filed if the person who has the ring returns it on their own. Police have told Danae that if the ring was pawned at a shop in the Cullman area, they cannot get access to it until 14 days after it was initially dropped off.
Until then, Danae and Mary Jane are holding out hope that the beloved item will end up back in their possession sooner rather than later.
“Just do what’s right,” Danae said. “You could have made a mistake. We all make mistakes…I hope that if you’re seeing this story or you’re finding out about this story after knowing you’re the one who made that mistake. I just hope you know that it’s ok. You’re forgiven. But just make your mistake right. Come back and do something positive and I promise you, you will make my grandmother’s day.”
If you have any information on the ring, you can get in touch with Danae on Instagram or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.