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Gina Hanner had no idea she'd dropped her wedding rings at the entrance to Holleybrooke subdivision in Spotsylvania.
Brian Ratcliffe of Spotsylvania saved the day, with his metal detector, for Gina Hanner of Woodbridge.
BY EDIE GROSS
Frantically swinging a rented metal detector left and right, Gina Hanner traversed the grassy shoulder at the entrance to Spotsylvania County's Holleybrooke subdivision.
The device detected bits of foil and metallic trash, but there was no sign of the item Hanner came for.
Then it started to snow.
And then she slipped and fell.
"I'm completely covered in mud," Hanner recalled of that miserable March Monday. "I'm sure people driving by thought I was crazy."
No crazier than any other woman desperately trying to find her diamond engagement ring.
'I KIND OF FREAKED OUT'
It could've been anywhere, but Hanner was pretty sure she was in the right spot.
She and her husband, Nick, who live in Woodbridge, had celebrated a friend's birthday in Spotsylvania two days earlier.
On their way home late that Saturday night, they pulled over at the entrance to Holleybrooke so Nick could get out of the car and smoke a cigarette.
That's when his wife pulled a lighter out of her pants pocket--the same pocket where she'd tucked her wedding band and engagement ring earlier that night for safekeeping.
After the break, the couple headed home and it wasn't until the next morning that Hanner realized her rings were gone.
"I kind of freaked out," said Hanner, who returned immediately with her husband to search.
Nick's eagle eyes spied her wedding band nestled in the grass. But the diamond ring he'd picked out for her had vanished.
Hanner returned the next day with the rented metal detector, but after several hours of fruitless searching, she returned home empty-handed.
"I was certain somebody walked past it, grabbed it and took off with it," she said. "I cried for three days straight. I was making myself sick."
She filed a report with the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office, and as a last-ditch effort she posted a plea on Craigslist.
AN ACT OF KINDNESS
Brian Ratcliffe's friend had bought an inexpensive metal detector to locate buried property markers on his land.
When Ratcliffe expressed an interest in buying the device, his buddy gave it to him. The Fredericksburg man immediately found an old silver dime in his backyard.
"I said, 'Oh, I want to get into this,'" recalled Ratcliffe, who dropped $1,200 on a more advanced model.
At a friend's house in King George County, he located Civil War-era buttons and bullets. At his brother's house, he found an 1896 Barber quarter with a picture of Lady Liberty stamped on it.
He joined a metal-detecting forum on Facebook, and in mid-March, one of the other members sent him a message: A woman had posted an ad on Craigslist saying she'd lost a ring in Spotsylvania. Did Ratcliffe want to help her out?
"I said, 'I grew up right around the corner from there. I know exactly where that is,'" said Ratcliffe.
So he contacted Hanner. Metal detecting on public property is prohibited in many communities, but Ratcliffe explained that if Hanner called the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office and cleared the way for him, he'd be happy to drive out to Holleybrooke and look for the missing ring.
"It was a pure act of kindness," said Hanner. "It was just a great, kind outreach--'Hey, I have this tool. Why not put it to use?'"
As difficult as the search had been for Hanner, it was a snap for Ratcliffe.
"It was my first mission," said Ratcliffe. "I parked the car, got out, got the detector out and within 15 or 20 minutes had her diamond ring in my hand. I'm just happy I got it before they started cutting the grass."
The ring was well-hidden, but his detector homed right in on it, he said.
Ratcliffe first called Hanner with the good news. Then the father of three, who runs a furniture-refinishing business, took the bauble home to show his fiancee.
"I said, 'Don't get mad at me, honey, when I give this to another lady,'" he said.
Meanwhile, Hanner was shrieking with excitement. She left work early, drove to Fredericksburg and gave Ratcliffe a rib-crushing hug.
"I believe in karma and in doing good things," he said. "It was the best feeling in the world to give someone back something they lost."
Hanner said she's not taking any more chances with either of her rings.
"I'm going to solder these suckers onto my skin," she said, laughing.
Losing her engagement ring was awful, she said, but there was an upside: Her husband of three years felt so bad that she'd lost it reaching for his lighter that he gave up smoking.
Hanner said Ratcliffe's willingness to help a stranger is something she'll never forget.
"He was one of the nicest people I've ever met in my life. I actually started crying when I got it back," she said. "There really are good people left in the world."
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428