The day started off a little more stressful than usual, my mom had just returned from the hospital and we were waiting on a home health nurse to come and check on her.
I got on the computer to refill grandma’s prescriptions and had AJ(12) take out the trash. I told her to come right back because I wanted to get the kitchen cleaned up.
After about 10 minutes, she wasn’t back. I had finished on the computer and started the dishes. I assumed she had gotten side tracked, like always, and that she was probably playing with the dog.
I called her name a few more times, but she didn’t respond. At this point I was getting angry! She was told to come right back and she just ignored me. I yelled for her again, and then checked if she was outside.
She wasn’t in the back yard, or near the trash can. The gate was unlocked so I knew she had went out, but normally she locks it up when she comes back in. It was odd, but I wasn’t too alarmed.
I figured she was in helping mom or grandma, so I checked. She wasn’t with either of them, at that point I began to panic.
I hobbled to the pool, had she fallen in and I not heard her? My heart sank. She knows how to swim, but I know accidents can happen. I looked around the pool and then checked the bottom. She wasn’t there. I breathed a sigh of relief and then realized that I hadn’t seen her in about 20 minutes.
I checked each room, the garage, the front and back yard, the car, but couldn’t find her anywhere.
I screamed for her at the top of my lungs, but she was nowhere!
I looked outside. It was eerily quiet and empty. There were no cars and only 3 people. A teenager who was flying by on his skateboard, a teenage girl who we have never seen before, and an older woman who we see once in a while walking by the house.
As I screamed her name the skateboarder didn’t flinch, he went on his way. The girl looked at me and then ran off, and the older woman just stood there.
At that point I was terrified. Had she been kidnapped? I knew the only kids she ever played with lived in the cul-de-sac in front of our house, and they weren’t home. The two neighbors she sometimes visits weren’t home either. We don’t know anyone else, so where could she have gone?
I grabbed the phone and dialed 911. While I was waiting I kept calling her name. I was in tears thinking of the millions of possibilities. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children states that the first three hours are the most critical when trying to locate a missing child, so I didn’t want to waste any more time.
As I was giving the police my information she came walking up from around the corner. The older lady waved at me said, “sorry” then disappeared.
I hung up from the police and collapsed. I was crying so hard that I could hardly catch my breath. I was finally able to ask where she was and what happened. Her answer floored me!
She was “helping” the older lady who could hear me screaming and who looked right at me. She had told AJ that she needed help finding her dogs that had run off.
AJ knows better, she has been told since she could walk to NEVER take candy from strangers and to NEVER go with someone who wanted help finding their dog. AJ has always been a people person and an overly trusting kid, so we frequently talk about strangers. The very day before this happened we were discussing that just because she has met a person a few times didn’t mean that she knew them.
I was relieved, happy, and thankful that she had come back, but I was angry that she didn’t use her best judgment. She is 12, that age where she thinks she knows everything and thinks she could have defended herself if someone tried anything. She thought she was just helping an older lady out and doing the right thing.
To be fair, there were two dogs that were running around, and maybe it was an innocent situation, but I have my doubts. There is a park at the end of the street. And that young girl who ran off when I called AJ, ran into the park. There was also a van parked there that drove off a few moments after AJ appeared. We haven’t seen the dogs since she came back either.
Was it a tactic to lure her away and kidnap her, or was it just an older woman who needed help? We will never know. But I do know that she won’t be taking the trash out by herself for a very long time.
I am not telling this story to embarrass her, but as a reminder that it only takes moments for a child to disappear. Please take a moment and remind your children about strangers.