An Alberta family is devastated after their home was robbed over the Christmas holiday — with thieves taking family heirlooms, pets and even an urn containing a loved one’s ashes.

“It’s heartbreaking. It feels like you’ve lost your parent all over again,” said Elizabeth Hanson, whose mother’s urn was taken in the robbery.

Hanson and her husband left their rural home, just south of Sylvan Lake, in mid-December to visit their son and new grandchild in Halifax.

When they arrived back home a few days after Christmas, they were surprised to find that one of their vehicles was missing from the garage. When they went inside, they found the home ransacked.

“All the drawers had been opened and emptied all over the floor,” she said.


Police say this urn containing ashes was among the items stolen. (RCMP)

“Jewelry was missing from the bedroom, computers out of the home office.”

Thieves made off with two samurai swords from the home and completely removed a locked gun safe containing 11 firearms. They even took the couple’s two kittens.

Hanson soon learned that the thieves had taken something irreplaceable: her mother’s ashes, which were kept in a handmade wooden urn that the family had on display in the home.

The couple inherited the urn from Hanson’s father, who passed away last year. She had been planning to spread both her parent’s ashes in the same place, but had not yet gotten a chance to do so.

"I kind of feel like I've let him down, and that I've let my brothers down, because I was responsible for it and now it's gone."

The urn containing her father’s ashes, kept in another part of the house, was not taken.

Stolen vehicle found abandoned

Hanson says the thieves made off with other irreplaceable items: her mother’s wedding band, her own engagement ring and a leather-bound journal kept by her father when he immigrated to Canada.

Many of the guns that were stolen had been owned by her husband’s family.

"The computers and tools and stuff, that can always be replaced," she said. "But there are some really special things."

They reported the break-in to police immediately. The couple’s missing Honda SUV was later found abandoned in Penhold, but the urn and other items are still missing.

Hanson said the couple took precautions while they were gone. The home had no security system, but they had neighbours watching over the place and someone checking on the home periodically. But with the nearest house a half-kilometre away, she says the thieves likely had plenty of time to empty the home.

"You think you’ve done what you can. And it makes you feel very vulnerable."

Police issue plea for urn's return

The RCMP told CBC News that there has been a rash of break-ins in the area. Cpl. James Allemekinders said they have issued a public plea for information about the theft, in an effort to get the urn returned. 

"[It’s] a message to the person or persons responsible. If they have a heart, at the very least let's get this item back to the family," he said..

"If you let us know where [it is], we can go out to find it."

He urged those responsible to drop the urn and other belongings off at any police station in the area. Police are also asking anyone who knows anything about the crime to call Crime Stoppers.