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Stolen Challenge Coins Returned Anonymously

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A local business owner is calling the person who anonymously returned her stolen challenge coins her hero.

"Nobody remembers, nobody cares. It's forgotten. And it's better to be here than in the closet," Cristina Portillo said.

Portillo is the owner of Freedom Smog in Riverbank. The auto shop performs emissions tests on cars and foots the bill for veterans.

In return, many of those veterans have donated military artifacts to Portillo, where she displays them at the front of her shop.

"That's why I was heartbroken about the coins because of that, because it is my responsibility to make sure they're safe and protected," Portillo said.

Two months ago, Portillo said someone walked into her shop and swiped a group of Challenge coins out of her display case. Veterans typically keep the coins in their pocket, as part of a challenge to prove their service. Other people keep custom Challenge coins to honor loved ones killed in the line of duty.

"I really thought that I wouldn't see them again," Portillo said.

Until last week, when someone anonymously returned the Challenge coins, not to Portillo, but to a local newspaper.

Portillo told FOX40 the Oakdale Leader found a small Scotch tape box outside their office, with the words "give this back to the Smog Lady" written on the outside.

"This little box here means the world to me," Portillo said.

When the Oakdale Leader called Portillo to their office, they surprised her with the box, which contained all of her stolen Challenge coins.

Portillo would like to thank the Riverbank Police Department and the Oakdale Leader for taking her report seriously and getting the word out to the community that it would mean a lot for her to get them back.

She believes the person who took the coins read the newspaper article about what the coins meant, and returned them after they had a change of heart.

"I don't know who that is but that person is my hero because it took a lot of courage for them to do the right thing," Portillo said.