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DENVER — A thief played a Grinch trying to steal Christmas from several families.

And now, he’s behind bars.

Gregory Gauna, 23, works at Denver International Airport for a third-party contractor and police say somehow he was able to swipe more than a thousand dollars in gift cards from a checked bag at the airport.

“Everything was perfect,” says Jodi McBroom about her trip home Sunday from Denver to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, after a memorable visit with her military son Devin and his family in Fountain.

But a thief stole her serenity.

“Christmas is supposed to be a time of giving–and not a time of panic and worry and ‘What do I do now’?” she said.

She got home and realized a thief had pilfered $1,250 worth of Wal-Mart gift cards she’d bought as presents for her kids and grand kids.

“The cards were redeemed, between 6:36 and 6:40 a.m., the same morning my flight was leaving,” says an incredulous McBroom.

She had checked her luggage with Delta at 4:50 a.m. and was waiting at the gate when a thief was spending her family’s Christmas gift cards.

“So whoever got into my luggage had time to leave the airport, drive to the Aurora Wal-Mart, and they didn’t just use the cards to purchase anything, they got a refund for the cards and got new gift cards,” says McBroom.

She says a Denver police detective was able to find the surveillance video of the suspect — one who may have been stealing narcotics from other travelers.

“It would take tens of thousands of dollars a month to check it. And it still would not make it safe. If they want to steal, they’ll find a way to steal it,” says aviation expert Mike Boyd.

He says more security is not the answer — but keeping your valuables with you is a solution.

Metropolitan State University professor Jeff Price says your bag will go through several hands on its way to a plane–and some of them may be dirty.

“The moral of the story, don’t put personal, valuable items in your luggage. They’re not safe, even if you think they are,” says McBroom.

Now, she waits to see if Christmas spirit and good old-fashioned police work saves the holiday for her family.

“I want my kids to have their Christmas–and my grand kids. That’s important,” she said nearly in tears.

Wal-Mart and Delta spokespeople told FOX31 Denver they have to wait until police complete their investigation — but they want to do right by McBroom. Whether that happens in time for Christmas is the question.

Gauna works for Vanderlande Industries and worked maintenance on the baggage system under the airport concourses.