Jack O'Neill learned a harsh lesson about mankind this week.
Under the dark of night, someone went into the detached garage at his family's rural Berkeley County home and stole his golf cart.
"Golf cart disappeared," said Jack, 28. "Bad people took it. I'm very sad."
Jack was born two months early, deaf, with a chromosomal imbalance and a host of other health issues. Five years ago, cochlear implants allowed him to hear. A pump in his stomach delivers daily medicine that allows him to walk pain-free.
The golf cart, which went missing between Saturday night and Sunday morning, was his Christmas gift in 2007.
"He can't drive a car, so we got him the next best thing," said his mother, Laurie O'Neill.
At the time, the gas-powered, 1995 Club Car cost the family $2,000.
Laurie and her husband, Gary O'Neill, installed a radio so Jack could listen to his favorite Christian music. The license plate on the front let everyone know it was "Jack's Ride," and the one on the back proclaimed him "Clemson's #1 fan." Jack added the tiger paws and other Clemson stickers on his own.
Often, Jack spends his days driving around the family's 7-acre lot, taking care of chickens and helping his mother in the vegetable garden. He visits neighbors in the two other houses on his street and spends time in the garage working on his model trains.
"He used that golf cart all the time," Laurie said. "People don't understand who they messed with, who they hurt. He just started praying as soon as we told him it was gone."
A devout Christian, Jack reads the Bible daily. Crosses, religious pictures and Bible verses line the walls of the bedroom where he sleeps with Bibles under his pillow to keep bad dreams away.
"He has a heart of gold and unfortunately, this has been a big lesson for him," said his mother.
"He kind of finally realized that there are bad people in the world. I didn't want to have to tell him that because he's so trusting."
Saturday was like any other day for the O'Neills. In the evening, Jack drove them to their neighbor's house for a cookout and to watch the NASCAR race.
Gary O'Neill went home early because he was getting up at 4 a.m. to go fishing with his son; Jack and Laurie rode home in the golf cart about 10:30 p.m.
The next day, Jack and his father left before dawn to go fishing, and Laurie went about her daily routine. It wasn't until the men returned around 1 p.m. that they noticed the golf cart was missing.
Laurie said she was dumbstruck.
"I was just doing laundry and I didn't look for it because I had no reason to look," she said.
She checked with her neighbors and eventually called the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office to file a report.
The O'Neills suspect someone walked into their garage just before 2 a.m. and rode off with Jack's Ride. A neighbor who was outside around then heard voices but didn't investigate, Laurie said.
The thieves didn't take the family's four-wheeler, motorcycle or boat. They didn't touch the tools.
Berkeley County Sheriff's Office Capt. Bobby Shuler said thefts of equipment or vehicles are fairly common in rural areas of the county, where residents often leave items in plain site or in unlocked garages or barns. Unlike many victims, Laurie O'Neill was able to provide a serial number, which will help tremendously, he said.
On Monday, Laurie took her son driving around Berkeley and Dorchester counties looking for his cart.
"We checked everywhere, " she said. "We even went to body shops."
If they don't find the golf cart, the O'Neills will eventually buy their son another one.
"We know it's going to cost us a lot of money and right now we just don't have it," Laurie said.
But she's mostly just hoping for a happy ending.
"Maybe somebody will have a conscience and return it," she said.
"It's not ours. It's his. It has nothing to do with us. It's about somebody you hurt. Yes, we're angry and upset, but mostly our hearts are broken for him."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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