Nearly 50 years later, ex-officer meets 'lost' girl again

DAVID HURST, The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat
Retired Richland Townhip (Cambria County) police officer Tony Palm is reunited with Bernie Imgrund, of Bedford, PA., after a 50-year absence, in Johnstown, Pa., Monday, July 19, 2021. Imgrund was accidentally left behind on a family shopping trip to Gee Bee's department store in Johnstown in 1971, when Palm responded to the incident, and consoled the her until he could reconnect her with family later that day. (John Rucosky/Tribune-Democrt via AP)

DAVIDSVILLE, Pa. — As a Richland Township Police Department criminal investigator, retired Capt. Tony Palm spent much of his career handling tragic cases that brought criminals to justice.

But for many years, his mind often shifted nearly 50 years into reverse to a case with a small-town, storybook ending, he said.

It was the day he reunited a Bedford County family with a 3-year-old girl who was left inside Gee Bee store on Scalp Avenue — a moment captured by a Tribune-Democrat photographer’s lens in 1972.

As it turns out, that “little girl” — Bernadette Imgrund — hadn’t forgotten the day either.

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On Monday, Palm’s eyes grew wide and swelled with tears as Imgrund — now a retired X-ray technician living in Altoona – walked into his Laurel View Village care home to greet the man who reconnected her with her father those many years ago.

“Bernie! You’re here,” Palm said, reaching toward the doorway with an outstretched hand.

This time, cameras captured a hug nearly 50 years in the making.

“It’s so nice to meet you,” she said, taking his hand.

‘I lost my daddy’

Now 90, Palm has been retired as a police officer for the past 25 years after spending most of his career as a full-time Richland Township investigator.

Four years ago, he moved to Laurel View, he said.

During weekly visits, his son, Tony Jr., helped chronicle his life and career in the book “My Life in Stories.”

And for the cover, he chose a black-and-white newspaper photo of then-Capt. Palm and a smiling, curly-haired “Bernie” Imgrund together moments after he found her in 1972.

The book helped serve as an inspiration to reunite the two, according to Karen Palm-Jones and Diane Little, two of Palm’s five children.

Imgrund said the family was able to track down her cousin through Facebook – and conversations started from there.

She said she felt “uneasy about being the center of attention” again, but welcomed the opportunity to meet Palm.

“I still remember being in that store and telling people ... ‘I lost my daddy,’ ” she said. “It wasn’t that he lost me. I felt like I lost him.”

‘Going to be OK’

As it turns out, her father – with his car packed full of children as old as 12 – was halfway to Bedford before realizing his youngest daughter was missing.

Store staff called the police department, and Palm entered to see the young, nervous child.

“I remember thinking to myself as I was walking in, ‘Here I am, walking in wearing my uniform. I hope I don’t scare her.’ It was the last thing I wanted to do,” he recalled.

Instead, it was one of one of Imgrund’s earliest memories, she said.

“I remember instantly knowing that when a policeman found me, I was going to be OK,” she said.

‘God put me there’

Imgrund said she can remember riding on the front-seat bench of the police car back to the station – on Luray Avenue in those days, according to Palm.

They waited there until her father was located.

“This was before cell phones, obviously,” she said, noting that her father ended up back-tracking to the department store and discovering his daughter was at the police station.

“I remember my dad scooping me up that day and giving me a big hug,” she said.

Imgrund said she often teased her father about the moment when she grew older, but never forgot about the friendly officer she met that day.

Palm said he was simply doing the core of a police officer’s job – serving others in a time of need.

“God put me there to help her that day,” he said.

Imgrund’s boyfriend, Randy Leonard, thanked Palm for his service.

“Every time we see that old picture, we (talk) about that day,” Leonard told Palm, while the group sat and chatted inside a Laurel View meeting room. “Who ever could have imagined we’d be here together 50 years later?”