Aron Gratias gets emotional talking about the response from the hockey world and the sports collectibles community since his large Wayne Gretzky memorabilia collection was stolen.
In an April 3 social media post, the Emma Lake, Sask., man revealed that autographed jerseys, pictures, pucks and close to 10,000 hockey cards — including 2,200 of Gretzky, some autographed — were stolen from a locked storage container in a rural yard near Shellbrook, Sask., where they were being temporarily stored.
Gratias had been amassing the collection and other hockey collectibles for more than 40 years. He said most of the signed items had been personally autographed for him, including signed photos with Gratias and his family in them.
None of the stolen items have surfaced, but hundreds of people have reached out to him since then, he said.
In an interview with CBC News, a visibly-moved Gratias said "quite a few" major collectors contacted him, offering to give him some of their own memorabilia.
Collectors offered jerseys signed by Gretzky. One person offered replica Stanley Cup rings from the early 1980s that were part of their great-grandfather's collection.
"The support has been unbelievable," he said. "Overwhelming."
Gratias said he couldn't accept the offers.
"Being a major hockey collector myself, I know what these collections mean to people," he said. "And I couldn't do that to somebody else."
Gratias said he isn't sure if Gretzky himself has heard about the theft, but that Gretzky's brothers have reached out to him online. Gratias also said retired NHLer Georges Laraque shared his story on a podcast.
"The hockey world, although it seems very, very large, is quite a small, family-knit community, for sure," Gratias said.
Total strangers watching for stolen collection
He estimated his social media posts have now been shared almost 30,000 times across various platforms internationally.
Gratias said he receives about 60 to 70 texts or direct messages a day from people with possible leads.
He has people watching all of the online "buy and sell" sites. Local pawn shops have also reached out to him saying they are watching for his stolen items, he said.
Organizers of a major sports card expo held recently in Edmonton contacted him to say they had posted photos of his stolen items at the entrance to let collectors be aware of what to watch for.
There has been so much attention paid to Gratias's stolen collection, and so many people trying to help him find it, that it's impacted even legitimate Gretzky memorabilia sellers, he said.
He said someone who posted a Gretzky collection shortly after Gratias's story was made public "received thousands and thousands of calls and hate mail."
"It was just so overwhelming that the RCMP ended up having to tell him, 'You know what? Not a good time to post your stuff,'" Gratias said.
He said RCMP officers from at least four detachments have contacted him to say they've received multiple calls and photos of items that might be his.
Gratias said RCMP have told him they have a couple of leads — and they are "picking up a little bit of traction."
RCMP tight-lipped about status of investigation
Asked if there were any leads or suspects in the case, Saskatchewan RCMP said in a statement, "the investigation is ongoing and we do not have further information to provide at this time."
The statement also said investigators are not in contact with administrators of any buy and sell sites at this time — but this may change, "depending on investigational avenues explored."
Gratias said the hockey memorabilia was stored in one of two storage containers and that the other container didn't have its locks broken. He also said other valuable items in the same container, such as cordless power tools and other memorabilia, were left behind.
He said whoever was responsible selectively opened up boxes and containers, unpacked certain items and then repacked those items — placing them back in the boxes and the containers and almost sealing them back up.
"It was very odd," he said. "Which kind of leads me to believe that, you know … a lot of people are telling me that, 'It's got to be somebody close to you.'"
Gratias said fewer than a dozen people knew of the collection's whereabouts.
The RCMP said the theft happened sometime between November and March.
In a release earlier this month, the RCMP asked the public to keep an eye out for the following items:
19 Gretzky jerseys, autographed.
Large Gretzky pictures and large painting, all autographed.
Autographed pucks all in display cases.
Close to 10,000 cards including 2,200 of Gretzky, some autographed and one framed Gretzky Rookie Card PSA 8.
1979 Mattel dolls still in boxes.
Figurines, some autographed.
Team Canada autographed photos.
Gratias said whoever has his collection probably doesn't want to reach out to him personally, but he's appealing to them to drop it off someplace and let someone else know — or to leave it in a visible location and make it clear it's Gratias's memorabilia.
"No questions asked," he said. "I just want my collection back."