Grape Day Park mule rustling ends smartly

Little Girl looks none the worse for wear as she spends some quality time Monday, Feb. 26 at the San Diego Humane Society along with owner John Sears, middle and an unidentified Escondido P:olice officer/Escondido Police

Little Girl, the mule, spent a weekend, and day, like no other in her 28 years, stolen from a Grape Day Park tree, searched for in an epic police and helicopter mule hunt, finally — spoiler alert — found and reunited with her owner. A 28-year-old Escondido man was arrested on suspicion of mule rustling.

As crazy as that may sound, Little Girl kicked off her strange journey through San Diego County on Friday, when the California Highway Patrol impounded the mule near Camp Pendleton as her owner tried to walk from the Marine base to Interstate 5.

Subject to numerous police statements and wall-to-wall television coverage, Little Girl disappeared just after midnight Monday, Feb. 26. Tied up to a tree at Grape Day Park, known for its ad-hoc sleeping arrangements for local transients, she was seen last being led away east towards Broadway along a “flood control bike path,” according to Escondido Police Lt. Ed Varso.

Meantime, Little Girl owner John Sears, 70, a mule camping advocate who travels from park to park with his pet and his mission, and answers to his self-nickname of “Mule” or “Monk” apparently slept away the night fantastic.

When Sears woke from his park-side bench, and discovered holy cow, no mule in sight, he contacted police.

“My whole life is my mules,” Sears said. “They’re my companions and my spiritual counselors. So when they stole Little Girl, they stole a lot.”

Sears, according to local sources, is the founder of 3 Mules (, a mission to encourage a return to the old ways of the pioneers who freely explored and camped in nature. He left two of his usual three mules at an undisclosed location as he took Little Girl from Oceanside to Escondido.

“We claim the right to use all public space to stop and rest for the night,” Sears said. “The public space is our freedom. Public space must be used and enhanced for us not to lose it. If we don’t do something now, you’ll have to pay for the right to open your eyes.”

But we digress.

Escondido Police kicked it into gear with a search of surrounding downtown neighborhoods even bringing in a San Diego Sheriff’s helicopter to aid in the effort. Social media blared with the description of two male suspects, one on bicycle and one presumably leading the unsuspecting mule.

Police described Little Girl as “a cream colored molly — female — mule,” adding “her owner is a frequent visitor to Escondido who travels the state with two additional mules.”

Finally, shortly before 3 p.m., the gumshoe investigative efforts resulted in the location of Little Girl and an arrest. The suspect was found with mule alongside a road near Dixon Lake, about five miles northeast of Grape Day Park.

“We are happy to report that all of those efforts paid off,” Varso said. “The widespread news and social media coverage resulted information that led officers to the mule. Officers have arrested David Martinez, a 28-year- old resident of Escondido on a charge of Grand Theft.”

Just before 4 p.m., Varso sounded the all-clear on the daylong odyssey.

“Escondido Police Officers have reunited Little Girl the Mule with its owner,” Varso said. “Little Girl is in good health and does not appear to have been injured. We thank the community for the caring support and tips that led to a happy ending in this case.”

As for Little Girl, seemingly unfazed by the community ordeal, it was a bit of respite at San Diego Humane Society’s east Escondido stables before pondering what the next day might hold.

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