CARY, N.C. -- Seated in his wheelchair, Nolan Turner, 12, staked out his neighborhood Thursday evening to sell water bottles and raise money to bring his wheelchair basketball team to his elementary school.
"Everybody at school has been asking me what it's like to (play basketball) in a wheelchair, and I want to show them," the Briarcliff Elementary fifth-grader said.
He had already collected more than $250 -- kept in a bucket -- of the $1,000 needed to bring the experience of playing wheelchair basketball to his schoolmates.
But as he began to work the neighborhood near High Meadow Drive about 6:30 p.m., a man he didn't recognize grabbed his money bucket and unhurriedly walked away, according to Cary Police Department Capt. Mike Williams. Nolan yelled and screamed at the man but was helpless to follow him.
Williams said the cash bucket was found near 119 Winners Circle later that evening. Only some coins were left.
Ashley Thomas, founder of Bridge II Sports, said she was thrilled when Nolan told her he wanted to share his wheelchair basketball experience with his schoolmates.
The Durham, N.C.-based nonprofit, which provides sports opportunities to physically disabled teens and adults, encourages its clients to talk about their disabilities and not be ashamed of them. Born with spina bifida, Nolan has gained confidence and self-esteem while playing with the Raleigh Junior Thunder team, she said.
"I'm thrilled that he stepped up and said he wanted to do it," Thomas said.
When she found out the money Nolan raised had been stolen, Thomas said she was shocked and was very concerned that Nolan was OK.
"I think he's very brave," she said.
The money Nolan had collected would pay staff to show the Briarcliff students how to operate the wheelchairs, to transport the equipment and cover the required insurance. Each wheelchair, specially designed for basketball, costs $2,500 to $5,000.
"We'll put cones down and let them dribble up and down the court, then probably play a game of sharks and minnows," Thomas said. She said students at the school probably will be surprised at how challenging it is to play wheelchair basketball.
Police are still searching for the man who took the money. He is described as black male with a tattoo on the back of his left arm. He is between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 8 inches tall, in his 20s, and has very short hair or is bald, Williams said.
Nolan's father has set up a fundraising site, http://www.gofundme.com/hs6pc, for anyone who would like to donate.
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