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Thanks to a social media post and the help of strangers, a Grosse Pointe Park woman will be reunited with a beloved French horn worth $20,000 that was stolen from her in California six years ago.

Kristi Crago’s rare Daniel Rauch French horn was recovered by law enforcement Monday after a fellow horn player saw the instrument posted for sale in a Craigslist ad. That same day, an investigator placed it in the hands of Crago’s sister in California.

“At that point, it was an exhilarating feeling,” said Crago, a professional musician. “The initial reaction to seeing the photo of it was breathtaking. To pull up this picture of what certainly wasn’t going to be my horn. ... It was my case. It was my horn. This is when it I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, this isn’t a long shot.’”

Crago, 40, was visiting Orange County, California, in 2010, helping her sister, Michelle Buessing, who was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for stage three breast cancer. One night, Crago, distracted with caring for her sister’s children and her own baby, left her handmade French horn in the car.

The next day, she realized it was stolen.

“Your heart stops for a moment,” she said. “I had a pit in my stomach for sure.”

Crago filed a police report and posted online about her stolen instrument. But she kept her focus on helping her sister before returning to Milwaukee where she was living at the time. She returned to using the French horn her parents purchased for her when she was 14.

“Michelle was ill and the cancer was the real shock for us,” Crago said. “The horn getting stolen was this strange side note. She grew up knowing how important the horn was to me. I couldn’t think this instrument someone took from me was what I should be focusing on.”

Buessing said her sister handled the situation with grace. “I want people to understand how incredibly understanding she was of the whole thing,” she said.

Crago’s horn, valued at $14,000 at the time it was stolen, is one of 432 French horns handmade by Daniel Rauch of Norway. Rauch has retired and the value of the horn has increased to nearly $20,000, Crago said.

About two months ago, at the urging of friends, Crago posted about her stolen horn on a Facebook group for horn players. On Monday, she was alerted by a member of the group that someone posted about a suspicious posting on Craiglist for a Rauch French horn listed at $8,500.

Buessing contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and they learned that a horn player in New York, also a member of the Facebook group, was working with law enforcement to retrieve the instrument.

“I don’t know if I stopped shaking the whole rest of the day,” Crago said. “I was afraid the guy would get tipped off it was a valuable instrument. ... I was just sort of frantic. I was more attached to that horn than I realized.”

Investigator Jason DelMonico of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said it took about eight hours from the time the informant from New York first contacted them about the instrument until they had it in the hands of Crago’s sister. He said he met with the seller at a restaurant and revealed that he was law enforcement.

DelMonico said he believes the seller purchased the French horn from a community garage sale. The purchase price: $250. He said he’s following up on leads to track down where he purchased it.

“I think it was a great opportunity to reunite her with something she has such a connection to,” DelMonico said. “That’s part of what we do.”

Buessing sent the instrument to their mother in Kansas City for Crago to pick up this weekend after performing in Tennessee. She said she’ll take it to Chicago for repairs.

Crago said she’s grateful for the community of horn players that rallied around her and helped in the return of her instrument.

“It just warmed my heart that in this horn community, it wasn’t a single person who tried to get this horn for themselves,” she said.

“The best part of this story is that not that I got my horn back, my sister is healthy and cancer free and holding it,” an emotional Crago said. “I’m just so glad we got it back and my sister is here and healthy six years later.”

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2311

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