Emily Elkins’ generous, forgiving life ends at 16

An open letter to Johnny Ray Kendricks, Inmate 00181593, state Department of Corrections:

Mr. Kendricks,

A little girl died Wednesday night.

Her name was Emily Elkins.

You stole her donation jar.

And she forgave you.

“If he needed the money more than me, I would have given it to him,” Emily said. “I would have raised more and given him more.”

At around the same time the lights went out at the prison – 9:45p.m. Wednesday – as you work on your 15-year sentence for stealing, the last light of Emily’s life flickered.

At 16, after fighting cancer for close to four years, Emily could not fight anymore. The girl who said after you stole a donation jar with $70 in it from a Rock Hill convenience store in the summer of 2012 that she would have given you the money, that you didn’t have to steal it, died.

That crime – and her grace in response – gave the world a chance to meet Emily.

And the world is better for having known her.

Emily forgave you a long time ago. She never stopped praying for you and helping others after she became something of a celebrity because you stole her jar.

“I am here to help other kids who don’t have what I have,” Emily said not long ago, after another of countless hospital visits. “I have to give. I have to try.”

After that day, Emily spent the final three-plus years – spending what energy wasn’t sapped from her by chemotherapy and other treatments – helping others.

After coverage of the theft, long before police caught you, her story spread across the country and donations poured in. Emily gave it all away to needy kids, bought Christmas presents for them, purchased blankets and coats and food for the homeless and broke and needy.

She bought an entire Angel Tree’s worth of presents for people at a store where she stopped in for a Coke.

All the while, cancer ate away at her.

The only thing Emily kept was a limousine ride and a ticket to see Justin Bieber in concert in 2013.

Even when you pleaded guilty to stealing the donation jar and other crimes, Emily asked the judge to show you mercy.

Emily knew how to forgive. She even forgave the cancer that took her life. She forgave it by giving to others every day she lived.

Emily and her parents – mother Annie Brakefield, father Paul Elkins – and others such as the Dragonfly Sisters coordinated motorcycle rides to collect toys for sick kids and kids without parents and special needs kids and disabled kids.

The last one, just before Christmas, brought in so many toys that Emily needed a rented truck to carry it all.

She gave it all away.

“I want every child to have a Christmas,” Emily said then.

She said it after the cancer that supposedly had gone into remission came back. It started in her leg at age 12 and spread into the rest of her body.

Cancer, unlike Emily, was unforgiving.

Many times Emily allowed The (Rock Hill) Herald to share what she did with the world. She shared until she died.

She was the honorary coach for the Winthrop women’s basketball team for one game last year. She used the opportunity to help the team collect toys for needy kids.

“Emily never thought about herself first,” her mother said.

When York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant heard that Emily wanted to be a crime scene investigator when she grew up, he invited her to be one at his office. She worked a case just weeks ago.

“Emily wanted to help people,” her father said. “That is who she is.”

Three weeks ago, South Pointe High School – knowing that the end was near and that Emily likely would never see graduation – awarded her a diploma.

Emily thanked everyone and took no credit. She simply asked the school and her uncountable friends to help others make their dreams come true.

The latest motorcycle fundraiser by the Dragonfly Sisters is scheduled for 2p.m. Saturday at Jokers on Neelys Creek Road in Rock Hill.

All proceeds will go to charity, as Emily demanded in all she did – keeping nothing, giving all.

That ride and charity event will go on.

Mr. Kendricks, that donation jar you stole from Emily catapulted a sick little girl into a public figure who used her fame for one thing and one thing only: to help others.

Emily Elkins died at 9:45 Wednesday night, but her spirit – and what she did that started with the forgiveness from that stolen jar filled with change – will live forever.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com