BARNEGAT, NJ — A Barnegat man using a metal detector came to the rescue of a distraught township resident, who lost her rings at the Barnegat Bay beach. Alicia Bivins says she offered Tom Panik a reward for recovering her treasured keepsakes, but he refused to take it.
“He told me just to pay it forward,” said Bivins. “He had the biggest smile after he saw how happy it made me.”
Bivins and her daughters, J’Yaina, 13, and Jayla, 7, visited the local beach on June 27 at about 5 p.m. Jayla went for a swim, while mom and her oldest sat and relaxed in the sand. The two watched as a young couple nearby played what Bivins referred to as an “old school slide hand game.”
J’Yaina was intrigued by the fast-moving fun and enticed her mother to teach her how to play the game. The two laughed as they enjoyed the challenge.
“At one point, J’Yania told me my rings were hurting her as our hands met,” said Bivins . “I was sitting on the beach in a sundress. I thought nothing of removing the rings and placing them on my lap.”
When it was time to head home, the three dusted everything off from the sand. Bivins stood up and shook herself — completely forgetting that the rings were on her lap. It was not until she and her husband decided to take the family out to dinner that she realized they were missing.
“I asked my daughter if I’d given her the rings to hold,” Bivins shared. “J’Yania said she didn’t have them.”
Although it was almost dark outside, Bivins and her family returned to the beach. The tears streamed down Alicia’s face as they all looked for the lost treasures.
“One of the rings was from my husband,” said Bivins. “We’ve been together for 20 years and are celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary on July 29.”
Bivins, who graduated from Lakewood High School 19 years ago, says she never takes off her graduation ring. Her mother has even remarked on her attachment to it.
The rings were nowhere to be found. However, Bivins was not prepared to give up hope.
When she turned to social media for help, Bivins had no idea that a search party of strangers would form. It started with a woman named Nicole who offered to bring her two sons and a metal detector to comb through the sand.
Sunday morning, Bivins and her younger daughter hit the beach at 7 a.m. She had a hard time concealing her tears as she searched what seemed like each individual grain of sand. Ultimately, it became a group effort.
First, Nicole, who did not disclose her last name, and her sons tried scouring the beach with a metal detector. One of Bivins’ friends came joined the effort and used a second detector. The search party expanded as Tom appeared with a third.
As it turns out, Panik was already planning on going to the beach with his wife and three sons. When he saw Bivins' note on Facebook, he decided to bring along his metal detector, a Garrett Ace 150.
“I’ve never found more than a few coins when I’ve used it before,” admitted Panik. “My father-in-law and I sometimes use the metal detectors on the beach at LBI. It usually turns out to be more of a bonding activity.”
Although Bivins seemed confident where she was sitting when the rings were lost, J’Yania disagreed. Panik decided to explore the teenager’s recollection of the location. They moved toward where a child was building a sandcastle. Unfortunately, the work of art was destroyed after the metal detector started making a noise.
As it turns out, the first of Bivins’ rings was buried underneath the sandcastle. The hidden treasure was recovered after a few scoops of digging deeper.
“It was weird because the metal detector said we had come across iron,” Panik said. “However, it’s not the first time it’s come up with the wrong metal.”
Bivins was not the only one grateful for the happy ending to her story. The beach was filled with approximately 20 people. Some admitted they offered prayers on her behalf. The sounds of applause acted as an affirmation of the kindness of others.
When asked, Panik said that he didn’t feel like his actions exhibited any type of heroism. He saw it quite simply.
“She was in a time of need,” he stated. “I was happy I was able to help her.”