A few hours before a local doctor reported her diamond engagement ring lost earlier this month, an unsuspecting college student found an interesting piece of jewelry in a parking lot.
But Aaron Bookout wouldn’t do much about that ring — unique, he thought, even if it might not be real — for a week.
Those seven days, for Helen Otteno, likely seemed like eternity. She reported her ring lost Feb. 5 around 6:20 p.m. at the Johnson City Police Department. The police report said Otteno thought the ring was lost between Feb. 4 around 3 p.m. and Feb. 5 around 4:30 p.m.
In reality, it was only about 24 hours the ring was lost because Bookout, 19, of Oak Ridge, already had it sitting on his dorm room fridge at East Tennessee State University. He’d found it around 2:30 p.m. Feb. 5.
“I was walking into Walmart on Market Street to get groceries and I looked down and happened to see it on the ground,” Bookout said. “I took it back to my dorm room and showed it to my friends to see if they thought it was real or not.”
They weren’t sure either way, but Bookout said he and his friends were leaning toward thinking it wasn’t a real diamond.
But with the unique cut of the ring, Bookout said even if it was a fake, it was interesting enough to hang onto.
“I put it on our mini fridge for a week and just kinda forgot about it,” he said. But Bookout just need to know for sure if the ring was real.
“We looked at it again, and I just had to know ’cause I wasn’t sure,” he said. Not being from Johnson City, Bookout looked up jewelers online and came up with Bowman’s.
“We took it to a jeweler. ... It took them about 10 seconds,” to determine Bookout had found a ring worth thousands of dollars, he said.
“They have a little laser thing and said, ‘This is real,’ and got really excited,” he said.
The jeweler first said the ring, banged up and dirty when Bookout found it, was valued around $20,000 but also told Bookout it could be worth as much as $45,000. The jeweler cleaned up the ring and Bookout had a decision to make.
Of course, it wasn’t too hard of a decision. Bookout knew the ring was not his to keep.
“In my mind, if I lost something, I’d really be missing it. I knew the lady would be stressing out,” he said. “I just knew it would be the right thing to do.”
When Bookout learned the ring had been returned to Otteno, he was pleased.
“I’m glad I got it back to the lady,” he said. “It wouldn’t have felt right keeping it.”
Otteno, contacted Friday while she was working at Johnson City Medical Center, was too busy to talk about getting her ring back, but said “you have no idea” how relieved she was.
Otteno also said she and her fiancé want to meet Bookout to personally thank him.