The story of an angel named Ernie

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By Hannah Wallace

Ernie Luke combs the Siesta Key sand with his metal detector. (submitted photo)

In November, a few hours before their flight was to take them back home to Chicago, Joanna Abdelhadi took her four kids to Siesta Beach one last time.
The family owns a vacation home in Cape Coral, and while Abdelhadi’s husband of 11 years, a Chicago police officer, had to stay home this time to work, she was determined to make the most of their four-day weekend in the sun.
“We always make it a point to visit Siesta,” she said.
But while playing volleyball in the waves with her daughter, disaster struck.
“All of a sudden my rings just fly off!” Abdelhadi said. Her platinum wedding band, along with her $6,500 engagement ring, disappeared into the Gulf of Mexico.
Distraught, Abdelhadi recruited everyone in the water around her to help with the search, but it seemed hopeless.
“There’s boats, there’s people, there’s sand,” she said. “And then this gentleman walks in with this metal detector.”
Ernie Luke, a Sarasota native and county employee, only recently got a metal detector and started combing the sand on his afternoons after work. Luke was still working on calibrating the machine, and he’d had almost no luck so far finding things in the water. He mostly uncovered torn-up aluminum cans and discarded vapes; the most valuable item he’d located thus far had been people’s car keys momentarily hidden in the sand.
But he wanted to help.
“One of her daughters came up to me and said, ‘My mom lost her wedding ring, can you help us?’” said Luke. “As we’re walking over there, she’s so sweet, like, ‘Thank you for helping us.’
“I have two grandkids. [Abdelhadi’s daughters] were great kids. But it’s hard, because [the rings] could’ve been anywhere.”
Luke even comforted her while he looked.
“He was like, ‘Don’t cry,’” Abdelhadi said. “He was so nurturing.”
Just five minutes later, Luke heard a telltale “blip.” He scooped the area with his net and brought up a small, shiny loop. “He’s like, ‘Is this your ring?’” Abdelhadi said. “And it was my wedding ring!”

Ernie Luke, metal detector guy

But with time winding down, Abdelhadi felt that she’d run out of miracles for the day, and she needed to get her family members back to the house to pack for their flight. She exchanged numbers with Luke’s wife, Tara, while Luke promised to continue looking.
“I couldn’t give up, but I was losing hope,” Luke admitted. “I couldn’t see through the water, it started getting windy, the current was picking up.
In the car, Abdelhadi called her husband.
“I said, ‘I have very bad news. I lost my rings. The really good news is, I found my wedding ring,’” she said. “He was like, ‘What idiot wears their rings to the beach?’”
Twenty minutes into their drive back to Cape Coral, Abdelhadi’s phone rang. It was Tara Luke, saying, “He found your ring!”
“We did a U-turn,” said Abdelhadi. “I was like, ‘I’ll feed my kids on the plane.’”
At the designated meet-up spot, Luke presented her with the ring, saying, “I guess we’re engaged now.”
Abdelhadi still can’t believe that she encountered a random stranger on the beach who would put so much effort into looking for the ring in the first place, and then returning it to her instead of keeping it for himself.

Joanna Abdelhadi, rings gal

“He could’ve said, ‘I won’t look anymore after she leaves.’ Or he could’ve just sold it. But he was honest enough to call me,” said Abdelhadi, who first shared her story on the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce website contact form. She called Luke “an angel and a blessing.”
“It’s actually the first really expensive thing that I’ve found,” Luke explained. “I just wanted to see her face, her reaction. It’s priceless.”

Hannah Wallace
Author: Hannah Wallace

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