Long-lost Elmo toy returned to mum 10 years after toddler's death

Photo: Candy Scarborough / Facebook
Photo: Candy Scarborough / Facebook 

Tucker Howard was born in 2005 with heart defects, but was just like many other toddlers with his intense love for his toy Elmo.

The pair were separated after the toy was left at a store after a photo shoot in Knoxville Tennessee, and now - 12 years later - his mother says that his precious "Melmo" - as Tucker called him - has been returned to her through the power of social media.

Tucker died aged just three-and-a-half after enduring multiple heart surgeries and a stroke which ultimately claimed his life.

His mother Candy Scarborough remembers how her son loved the cuddly red Elmo that was his "comfort buddy."

"He was an 'Elmo's World' kid. He had an Elmo chair in his room and he carried Elmo everywhere he went," she recounted to Good Morning America.

She recalls in a Facebook post, "... how upset he was when we lost it at that photo shoot," and that she, "searched high and low after that day until I found a raggedy Elmo clone."

It was in July that Candy spotted a forgotten photo from that day in her mother's wallet while out on a shopping trip, and snapped it with her phone camera.

She posted the photo of Tucker with the caption, "There's just something special about a boy and his "Melmo" Annnnnd also something horrid about the moment the boy loses him's "Melmo" at said photo shoot. #TuckerForever"

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Photo: Candy Scarborough / Facebook

Photo: Candy Scarborough / Facebook

​Megan Whitehead Flanagan - who knew Candy through mutual friends - saw the post, instantly recognising the background and the doll. She had worked at the same JC Penney studio in 2007.

Candy quoted the astounding message she received from Megan. 

"I worked at JC Penney's portrait studio in the west town mall during the time we had the Sesame Street set. I took many many photos of kiddos with that background. An Elmo was left at our studio."

It turned out that Megan used the Elmo for years as a "smile maker" for "thousands of babies." When she left the photography studio, she asked the manager if she could take him with her.

She kept Elmo for nine years.

In her message to Candy, she wrote, "I put it in a box of memorabilia and still used it from time to time to make other kids smile. Years later I met you.

Several weeks ago you put up a post that your late son had left a Elmo at the JC Penney studio.

Has this story come full circle? Could this be his Elmo?"

Megan was reunited with "Melmo" on September 19 - the day before Tucker's 14th birthday.

She posted, "Yesterday Megan Whitehead Flanagan gave me Elmo. I feel like I'm in some kind of Toy Story scene. Today I'm celebrating the day Tucker was born with allllllllll the feels. How has it been 14 years?"

"There's no way to make losing a child better or easier, but there's some comfort in knowing his life made a difference, and he's still making people smile after all these years."

Candy told GMA, "I guess it took me by surprise, after all these years after losing him, some things sting and some things feel like a wink from the Lord. I smiled, this was happy. And I had a good cry on my way home."

"It just was a huge reminder, and I like to think maybe a message even, from Tucker, just saying, 'Hey, this was part of my life. And to help me to focus on his life and not his death," Candy told PEOPLE.

One commenter on Candy's post summed up the way we're all feeling.

"This is incredible and I'm a mess. So happy for you to have this amazingly special moment and gift."

Photo: Candy Scarborough / Facebook

Photo: Candy Scarborough / Facebook