[Editorial Note: Story updated on Thursday, October 25, 2012, with additional information and quotes throughout.]
WOODSTOCK, Ga. -- A family in Woodstock, who just lost their home of 20 years to foreclosure and are preparing to move out, lost even more on Wednesday.
And it was all because they inadvertently triggered what they now call "mayhem" when they posted a craigslist ad Tuesday night.
Their online post was just a well-meaning ad for a giveaway of furniture and other household items in their driveway outside the small house, a giveaway scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
But big crowds showed up early, while the family was out, breaking into the house and taking practically everything inside, in part because the way that the craigslist ad was written gave them the idea that everything on the property was up for grabs.
Wednesday night, Michael Vercher walked 11Alive's Jon Shirek through his family's almost empty soon-to-be former home.
"Well, when we got to the house, I mean, pretty much -- this," he said as he stepped from the foyer into the living room.
Their home -- ransacked, ravaged, raked over.
Almost everything inside -- gone.
"They came in and just tore the place up," he said.
People who responded to the family's craigslist ad showed up at the house earlier than 10 a.m., before Vercher arrived there from work to supervise the giveaway.
And when he drove up to the house, he said, they had already broken into it, helping themselves to almost everything inside.
And as the family was calling 911, he could not stop them.
"Everyone was inside the house; they were taking out items," he said. "There were cars around the block. It was like ants in and out of the house."
He spoke of how they took, from inside the house, the only items that the family wanted to take with them as they moved out -- family keepsakes, and all their clothes -- everything but a few of their books, which were left scattered across the carpet.
Vercher's fiancee, Dana Lamanac, was despondent; they took her guitars, which were gifts from her father.
"There's two guitars that really mean a lot to me," Lamanac said. "They were my dad's, and that's irreplaceable to me. That's really the only thing I want back. I hope somebody has enough courage and respect for other people to bring the stuff back. I mean it's like the only thing he gave to me. It really means a lot to me."
Lamanac said she and Vercher's mother arrived at the house about the same time Vercher did, thinking they were there in plenty of time to help distribute the items outside that they'd intended to give to the people who showed up.
"When we got here, me and his mom jumped out of the car and said, 'This is our stuff, don't take anything,' I mean, 'If you have something, put it back,'" Lamanac said. "And this one woman actually, like, got in our faces and stuff, and started saying no, and everybody else just kind of drifted by us and didn't listen and took the stuff and left."
The mom, Pam Hobbs, bought the house 20 years ago when Michael was a toddler and she was pregnant with her daughter, Anna. In the past few years Hobbs and the rest of the family have struggled to keep up with the mortgage. She's been out of work and looking for work, and they fell behind in the mortgage. And the bank foreclosed.
They're moving into the basement of her mother's home nearby, temporarily.
Wednesday morning, when the family gathered back at their house to help with the giveaway, "the front door was wide open and people were coming in and out with our things," Hobbs said. "It was mayhem."
They immediately called 911, while telling people to get out of the house and stop taking belongings from inside the house.
"And a lady had her truck loaded with my grandma's sewing machine," Hobbs said. "And she wouldn't give it to me. So I had to call police and they got my grandma's sewing machine back."
That was one of the few items the family recovered, but the crowd had moved through the house quickly and most were gone quickly.
Here is the online ad that the family placed Tuesday night:
"Fairly large, free yard sale. Moving and we want everything to go for free. So come over and take whatever you want and how much you want. Here are a couple of items that will be there: Couch, chairs, lots of household and kitchen items, appliances, a wardrobe, desk, recliner, movies, lots of books, lamps, women's and teens' clothing, etc. And also a box of free food with lots of cans. Please take only if you need it. We're starting at 10 a.m., October 24th, and we'll finish when everything's gone."
Vercher said he now understands why people misunderstood the family's ad to mean that they were giving away everything, inside and outside the house, because of the way they worded it.
"Never thought in a million years that they would come and take all of our stuff in the house," he said, emphasizing that he had planned to arrive from work before anyone else showed up. "They probably thought that they were allowed to come [inside], and they saw other people coming in and out, and they thought it was OK."
On Thursday the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office released the incident report that was written by the deputy who responded to the 911 call.
The deputy wrote of arriving to find two women outside the house arguing over Hobbs' sewing machine. One of them had already taken it from inside the house and had loaded it into the back of a pickup truck, and they were arguing over which one saw it first. Neither one intended to return it to Hobbs; the deputy changed the women'sminds.
"I went and spoke with [the women] and they said they loaded up the free stuff they wanted... [and] went on to say there were a whole bunch of people inside the house, outside the house, in the driveway, all of them loading up what they thought to be 'free' stuff. I asked how she heard of this free stuff give away. She said it was posted in Craigslist. And the ad in Craigslist said everything must go. I told her Ms. Hobbs wanted her sewing machine back, and she said that was fine. I helped unload the sewing machine from the truck and placed it near the curb."
The deputy then spoke with Vercher, Hobbs' son.
"He seemed upset and said no one was supposed to go inside the house and take items. I sympathized with him how I understood that, but explained to him that when placing an ad in Craigslist for 'free' stuff to be given away, someone should at least be at the residence when the people start showing up. I explained to him that there were several cars coming and going from this address when I arrived, and who knows how many came and went before I got there. I told him if he needed us for anything else, to call us back. He said he understood, then went down the street a little ways to retrieve the sewing machine from the curb. I then departed the scene, going back in-service."
A spokesman with the Sheriff's Office said Thursday that detectives are seeking the public's help to develop information about the property taken from inside the home and the people who first broke into the home.
"It's just a nightmare," Vercher said Wednesday night said, shaking his head, after taking an inventory of all that was missing from inside the house.
They have no insurance on the contents of the house.
Vercher insisted the family was speaking publicly about all of this with a single purpose in mind -- to appeal to those who were inside the house to return only the sentimental family keepsakes; the rest they're welcome to keep.
"Lived in this house [with his family] for 20 years, my whole life," he said. "It's our family home. We have to get out because of the foreclosure. We don't have much and now we have even less. You'd like to think there's good people. I mean, I hope they would have a good enough heart to bring our stuff back. We don't hold any grudges against them, we just want our stuff back. I mean, some of that stuff is irreplaceable."
No questions asked, he said.
Vercher is also looking at online ads to see if anyone is now trying to sell their keepsakes.
"We're not asking for handouts," he and the others said repeatedly, "just for what means so much to us to be returned to us."
Lesson learned, they said.
Thursday, 11Alive's Help Desk responded to an outpouring of community concern for the family as a result of their self-inflicted craigslist nightmare, and arranged for Costco at Towne Center and Cumberland to offer the family a $400 gift card to replace clothing and other essential items, and for Shepherd Center in Atlanta to give them three guitars.
A grateful Pam Hobbs said the biggest lesson the family is taking away from all this is that "there are really more good people in this world than there are people that are not nice."
Vercher said that anyone who would like to contact the family about their keepsakescan email him firstname.lastname@example.org.