Theresa and Steve Esposito were married for 70 years, and they always wore their matching gold crosses on their necks, no matter what. Their families have lost both of them to COVID-19 and they say Steve's necklace is also gone.
The couple from Brooklyn both died weeks apart earlier this month and the tragedy has been compounded because of the missing priceless heirloom, their granddaughter Jessica Petrosino says. Now she's on a mission to get it back.
"They would say, 'We never take it off. We shower with it, we swim with it. Every single thing we do, we do with the cross because it’s a symbol of our relationship and a love that lasted 70 years,'" Petrosino recalled.
She says her grandfather went into the hospital at NYU Langone Brooklyn on May 3 with the cross around his neck. Days later, he was transferred to the Bensonhurst Rehabilitation Center but his condition deteriorated and he was sent back to the hospital – this time the cross wasn’t there.
"The first thing my mom asked the undertaker was does he have his cross on? Because he never took it off. And he did not, he only had his watch on," Petrosino said. "It's truly heartbreaking to know that somebody could take that off of an elderly man when he was in the last days of his life.”
Petrosino says she called the hospital, the FDNY and the police, but so far no one has been able to track the necklace down. When she called the rehab center, she was brushed off.
"The man told me, 'I have no time to look for your grandfather’s belongings.' And then he hung up on me," she said.
NBC New York reached out to the Bensonhurst Rehab center for comment but has not received a response. NYU Langone says it is investigating the matter.
"We have already been in contact with family, have expressed our condolences on the loss of their loved one, and will continue to keep them updated on the progress of the inquiry," a hospital spokesperson said.
Petrosino’s grandmother was laid to rest two weeks ago. Her grandfather will be buried Tuesday. Their family fears that this love story that spanned seven decades, will end with one of their precious crosses in someone else’s hands.
"We don’t care who took it or why you took it. We just ask that you give it back because it doesn’t belong on the neck of a stranger," Petrisino said. "And it doesn’t belong on the neck of somebody that doesn’t know the story and the love that is behind that. It belongs in our family.”