British Columbia

Mama Bear has been found! Stolen teddy bear with recording of mother's last message returned to owner

After a four-day disappearance that caught the attention of international media, locals and celebrities craving a happy ending, a teddy bear containing a recording of a dying mother's final message has been safely returned to its owner.

'Mama Bear's home,' says woman reunited with irreplaceable Build-A-Bear on Tuesday

Mara Soriano holds Mama Bear in the CBC Vancouver newsroom. The stolen teddy bear was returned to her on Tuesday. (Mara Soriano/Twitter)

After a four-day disappearance that caught the attention of locals, celebrities and international media craving a happy ending, a teddy bear with a dying mother's final message to her daughter has been safely returned to its owner.

Mara Soriano said two strangers found the stolen, plush toy, which contains an audio recording her mother made before she died of cancer last year, and brought it back to her late Tuesday.

The custom Build-A-Bear, which she named Mama Bear, was in "perfect condition" aside from missing its signature square glasses.

"She's home," said a beaming Soriano, 28.

"I didn't think she would come back, but she did."

Soriano squeezed the bear's paw, heard the sound of her mother's voice and cried.

"Mama Bear's home," she said.

WATCH | Mara Soriano plays the audio recording of her mother's voice after getting her bear back:

Daughter plays audio of late mother's voice after reunion with lost teddy bear

3 years ago
Duration 0:35
Featured VideoAn emotional Mara Soriano, 28, plays the audio of her late mother's voice after a lost teddy bear containing the recording was returned to her in Vancouver on July 28, 2020.

An email from a stranger

Soriano said she was devastated when the bear was stolen while she was moving apartments in Vancouver's West End last Friday. 

After days of searching and pleading in the media for the bear's return, Soriano said she received an email from a man on Tuesday who said he had some information about it

"Of course, I jumped on it, because it was a lead," she said.

"I called [CBC News reporter] Deborah Goble because she was the person who broke the story, and I couldn't have done this without her, so I wanted her to be there, too. Plus, she's a grown-up, and I wanted to make sure everybody was safe.

"They brought the bear over to CBC, which was a safe meeting place ... and we did it."

Thousands of people on social media shared a photo of the bear after it disappeared, hoping it could be found. Vancouver-born actor Ryan Reynolds offered a $5,000 reward on Twitter, "no questions asked," to the person who returned the toy. TV host George Stroumboulopoulos, another Canadian, said he would match the amount.

Soriano said she gave the men who returned the bear an undisclosed amount of her own money "as collateral," hoping the full reward would come through.

Bear theft on video

Soriano lost the bear as she and her fiancé were unloading their U-Haul van at her new apartment in Vancouver's West End on Friday. A friend had called to say he'd been hit by a van while biking over to help with the move, and Soriano immediately set down her bag — with the bear inside — to go and help.

Frazzled, she forgot to tell her fiancé where she'd left the bag. It was gone within minutes.

Security footage from the building showed a man walking up to the black bag, picking it up and walking away.

Theft of bag with precious teddy bear caught on surveillance video

3 years ago
Duration 0:49
Featured VideoA backpack belonging to Vancouver's Mara Soriano was stolen from an alley while she was in the middle of a move. The bag contained many valuables, but the most important was a teddy bear containing a final recorded message from Soriano's mom who died of cancer in 2019.

Soriano said the men who returned the bear told her they found it in Vancouver's Strathcona Park. She said the men don't want to be identified publicly, and she isn't concerned with an explanation.

"They liberated her," Soriano said of the bear.

Soriano's teddy bear, pictured before the theft, has an audio recording her mother made before she died of cancer in June 2019. (Mara Soriano)

Bear is 'the last memory' of mother's voice

Soriano said her mother, Marilyn Soriano, recorded the bear's message for her shortly before going into a hospice. She died in June 2019 at the age of 53.

"At hospice, her voice was different. Much softer. Not the mom I grew up with," she said. "That bear is the last memory I have of her speaking in her normal voice. 

"She said that she loved me and she was proud of me and that she'll always be with me."

Soriano, who was born in the Philippines and moved to Vancouver from Toronto five years ago, said the bear also reminds her of home.

"The bear has a message in it in Filipino. It says, 'I love you.'"

With files from Deborah Goble and Liam Britten