HUNTINGTON - When curious 9-year-old Caroline Woodward received a metal detector for Christmas, she had no idea she would uncover a treasure that had been missing for 51 years.
But that's exactly what happened when the third-grader at Our Lady of Fatima used her new gadget for the very first time with her father, Rob Woodward, in a field on Cherry Avenue in Huntington.
"We started reading the instructions on how to find the different metals, and we found the sensitivity button for precious metals and tuned that one," Rob Woodward said. "And within a couple swipes, we kind of got the signal that there was something in the ground. About 4 inches down we saw a little bit of red, then a little bit of gold, and then there was this great ring."
Immediately after discovering the ring, Caroline began to wonder about its owner. Whose could it be? How did they lose it? And what if she could find the owner and give it back to them?
She began inspecting it and concluded that the large gold ring probably belonged to a man. It had a red stone on top with the words "Christ Church School" etched around the stone. On the side of the ring were the initials "WDS" and the number "65," which meant the owner most likely graduated in 1965.
Using the name of the school, the graduating year and the initials, Caroline and her father began to scour the Internet looking for any clue that could connect them to the owner.
Weeks went by with no luck until Caroline took the ring to school last week.
She was on her way to music class when she ran into Linda Brewster, a long-term second-grade substitute teacher at Our Lady of Fatima. Caroline showed Brewster the ring and began telling her about how it was discovered.
Brewster noticed the graduation year was close to the year she graduated. When she saw the name of the school, she began to put the pieces together.
"I knew one person from Huntington that went to Christ Church School, a small prep school in Virginia, so I figured I would be able to ask my friend who it belonged to," Brewster said.
"Then I asked Caroline to read me the initials inside the ring because they were too small for me to see. She said the initials were WDS. That's when I said 'Walter Dunnington Shields. This is my friend's ring.' I couldn't believe it."
It seemed like an impossible coincidence, but after months of searching, Caroline now knew the name of the ring's owner.
With the mystery finally solved, Brewster sent pictures to Shields' wife asking her if the ring looked familiar.
Brewster said it wasn't long before she got a call from Walter Shields, better known to her as Watt, asking her where she found it.
"I thought I lost the ring during a trip to the beach," Shields said. "But the field where it was found is a place I used to play football. So I must have lost it there and not even realized it.
"But what are the odds that she was able to find my ring? You would probably have better odds winning the lottery."
Shields and his wife live more than 200 miles away from Huntington, in Christiansburg, Virginia, where he works as a periodontist. After graduating from Christ Church School, he attended Marshall University for his undergraduate degree before going to dental school and later making a career in the U.S. Army.
He said he had all but forgotten about his lost class ring until last week.
Interested in learning more about its discovery and meeting the girl who found it, Shields and his wife planned a visit to Caroline's school with the help of the school, Brewster and Caroline's parents.
The visit was hidden from Caroline, who assumed she would be returning the ring by mail.
Then on Friday, Shields walked into Caroline's classroom.
With her confused classmates looking on, Caroline was called to the front of the class, where she came face to face with the man she had been searching for all these months.
Without missing a beat, she removed a box containing the ring from her pocket, opened it and handed the ring to Shields. Smiling ear to ear, Caroline embraced Shields, and new friends formed from the most unlikely circumstances.
"She is a very special girl," Shields said. "What's surprising is not just getting the ring back, but what she did. She doesn't abide by the old saying, 'Finders keepers, losers weepers.' Not everyone would have done what she did."
Caroline said she doubts she will ever find an object that will lead her on an adventure quite like this one, but she plans to continue using the metal detector to search for hidden treasures.