ST. PETERSBURG - Sarasota veteran Bobby DeVito isn’t sure what led him to St. Petersburg on a quiet afternoon in October, or why he ended up at the Value Pawn & Jewelry on 34th Street.

What You Need To Know

  • Shadowbox returned to sister of veteran Alex Meiners

  • Bobby DeVito had purchased it at pawn shop, but knew it was battle worn

  • “I never imagined it would come back to me,” said Alex's sister, Jill

  • More Manatee County headlines

When visiting a pawn shop, DeVito says he’s methodical. He combs the outside wall paying close attention to each piece. But it was a shadowbox of patches and pins from a soldier’s uniform that stopped him in his tracks. 

“It was used. It was battle worn. It was obvious to me that it wasn’t like a flea market memorabilia reproduction,” he explained.

The patch at the top read ‘Meiners’. As a veteran himself, DeVito knew that a pawn shop wasn’t the right place for this shadowbox, and $50 later he took it home. He started to hunt for the owner by using clues on the patches, but the trail ran cold and DeVito placed the box on his desk.

“The shadowbox sat in my office and kept looking at me. Occasionally I would look over at it, and it would sort of glare at me like… you gotta finish this,” he explained.

The patches left a breadcrumb trail of hints for DeVito. He knew Meiners was a U.S. Army veteran with an Operation Enduring Freedom patch and another for the 101st Airborne. It ended up being the Rakkasans patch, the one for the 187th Infantry Regiment, that lead him to the Rakkansans Association and his final clue.

A member there was able to trace the name Meiners back to St. Petersburg native Alex Meiners.

DeVito attempted to locate Alex but didn’t have any luck. He then used social media to contact who he believed was Alex’s sister and sent a message.

“I had no idea what kind of response I was going to get,” he said.

The response was bittersweet for DeVito. Yes, Jill was Alex’s sister, but she informed him that her brother had passed away in November after a long battle with PTSD.

Earlier this week, DeVito took another trip to St. Pete and delivered Alex’s shadowbox back to his sister.

“I never imagined it would come back to me,” she said.

Jill said she was there the day Alex created the shadowbox with his pins and patches. It was in 2015, just after he returned home from Afghanistan.

“It hung in the room across from me for years,” she said. 

After her brother passed, Jill said she wasn’t able to locate his belongings. She had been told they were in storage somewhere, but Alex never informed her as to where and didn’t have much.

“The last couple months of his life he was desperate for money. But I think if he did pawn it, it was the very last thing that he pawned,” she said.

The shadowbox now sits inside a cabinet in her home beside the box that hold’s Alex’s ashes.

Next to that, is a photo of the two siblings.