On the night of April 14, Jim Grantham walked his 3-year-old pitbull mastiff Brute around the Flagstaff Medical Center before returning to the RV he and his partner Shirley Rininger shared. After he put Brute in the RV, hiding his keys inside the vehicle, Grantham returned to the hospital to spend the night with Rininger, who had been admitted to the hospital a few days before for intense seizures six months into her pregnancy.
Around 4:35 a.m. the next morning, Grantham went to check on Brute and have a cigarette. The RV was nowhere in sight. At 24 feet in length, the yellow and white 1973 Cabana is hard to miss. Brute was also gone.
At first, Grantham thought the RV had been towed, even though he had cleared keeping it on the hospital parking lot with FMC staff. They assured Grantham that they hadn't towed it, then called the Flagstaff Police Department for him.
“The police looked at [FMC’s] footage that morning,” Rininger said.
Officers told the couple the footage showed a dark SUV pulling into the parking lot near the pediatrics department at 4:20 a.m. Two subjects could be seen crossing Beaver Street and approaching the RV, one wearing all black, the other with a white hoodie.
Another camera's footage shows the dark SUV drive away, followed closely by an RV. Both vehicles headed east on Cedar Avenue. The dog was nowhere to be seen.
“I don’t know how those people got that RV,” Rininger said. “Brute wasn’t aggressive, but he definitely stood his ground. He lived on a ranch with javelinas and coyotes that he went after. I would have thought he would at least act like he would tear the [intruders] apart.”
Grantham and Rininger had been living in the RV and traveling between Yavapai County and Flagstaff since they bought it off Craigslist for around $3,000 in late January, Rininger said.
Moving into the RV was a “combination of needing to cut ourselves off from everything and start new,” Rininger said. “We knew we needed a better environment for ourselves and the child.”
The situation proved ideal for the couple: Grantham was able to work remotely with his IT business, while Rininger could do her occasional freelance writing. The two planned for their daughter to be delivered at Flagstaff Medical Center, where Grantham’s child from a previous marriage was born eight years ago.
Grantham, who lived in Flagstaff from 1998 to 2018, tried to get Rininger to move to Flagstaff with him not long after they met. When Rininger visited, she knew it would be a great place to raise their daughter.
“It has everything a big city has, but it’s very quiet. There’s green, and it’s out and open – not oppressive like in the Valley,” she said. “[Jim’s] favorite place in Arizona is Flagstaff, and then our home and belongings and everything was stolen in the one place he’s trying to get me to in the past year. I was like wow, the place you can’t say enough about – this happens there while I’m at the hospital.”
Rininger said hours before she was hospitalized at FMC on April 10, the two had gone shopping to renovate the RV.
“We had bought brand-new hardwood flooring. I had bought electrical supplies, we were replacing all the lighting. Jim had replaced the light fixtures. I had picked out the paint for the bathroom and the kitchen area,” she said.
A few hours after the RV was stolen, Rininger was transferred from FMC to a hospital in Las Vegas where there was more room for high-risk pregnancies and Rininger’s particular neural condition.
Rininger was able to get transferred through Guardian Medical, but it took Grantham five days to join her after trying to round up funds for a Flixbus ticket.
The search continues
In the interim, Rininger said, the stress of losing their home, vehicle, dog and work supplies while dealing with her illness took its toll.
“I lost my ever-loving mind, I went into a panic attack and they couldn’t even get me to take medicine,” Rininger said.
After being discharged from the Las Vegas hospital, the couple was able to stay at a cheap hotel for a few days, thanks to Grantham’s sister.
Even though the two were no longer in Flagstaff, they were still adamant about searching for their belongings and the dog they said was like a child to them.
“I don’t believe in social media whatsoever, but Jim thought that by putting the RV out on social media it might be found because it’s so old, it stands out,” Rininger said. “But when he told me a GoFundMe page got started I was like ‘what?!’ That totally floored me.”
After reading about Grantham and Rininger’s experience on Grantham’s viral Facebook post, a woman from California decided to start a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the couple. So far, $2,050 out of the $10,000 goal has been raised by more than 50 people.
Now back in Phoenix, the couple has used some of the money to stay in a hotel for a few days, get Rininger’s driver’s license reinstated and purchase some new clothing and shoes -- since they'd been wearing the only clothes they had on the night the RV was taken. The money also allowed them to buy food. They have also paid a few people back that have helped them out the past two weeks.
“I’m a penny-pincher, so we are making the money go pretty far,” Rininger said.
What’s left will go towards a rental car and corporate housing in the Phoenix area so Grantham can get to his IT jobs at various residences and businesses.
Grantham wrote on the GoFundMe page, “I want to thank all of you again for your donations, your thoughts, and your prayers. Every little bit has helped keep us going these last few days.”
Grantham temporarily removed the Facebook post about the stolen RV because he said he was getting “hurtful comments” and visitors who were writing that the two had started a scam, something that Grantham wrote “makes no sense.”
According to FPD spokesperson Charles Hernandez, “flooding social media and sending out BOLO (be on the lookout) and ATL (attempt to locate) bulletins to neighboring jurisdictions helps improve the likelihood the property or stolen vehicle will be located.”
“With regard to this specific investigation, the vehicle was entered into the stolen vehicle database and information related to the dog inside the vehicle was included,” Hernandez wrote. “The criminal investigations unit is continuing the investigation and working to help locate the vehicle and potential suspects.”