It Happened to Me: I was a witness

There used to be a column in Jane magazine called “It Happened to Me.”  In it, a Jane “reader” would write an article about something that happened to them: cancer survivors, cult members, rape victims, etc.  I always really liked that column because it seemed like *everyone* had a more exciting story to tell than I did.  They were oftentimes horrendous and tragic, but that somehow escaped me. And now there’s no more Jane magazine.  Hmmm.

Well, today it happened to me:  I witnessed a case of child endangerment/possible neglect. I was leaving the mall when I heard a baby screaming.  I recently got a new car so I was wondering the aisles aimlessly looking for my vehicle and the crying got louder and louder.  Suddenly, I realized it was coming from inside a car.

I looked over to see a small blue car with the windows rolled down. In the back seat was the crying infant, sitting in her car seat with her brother (?), who was no older than 5.   I didn’t know what to do so I took pictures of the license plate and the children with my cell phone.  Then I called my friend who used to work in protective services.

After I got off the phone with her, another shopper happens by and hears the child screaming. I tell her it’s okay and that I’ve called the cops (I hadn’t actually called them yet. I thought my friend was calling them).  As she’s trying to get the baby out of the car, another woman comes over and asks what’s going on.

We tell her and discover that she’s the mom.  She said she left the kids in the car while she “ran in” to get her pictures.   The boy was ASLEEP on the car seat and the baby was crying and sweating profusely.  I had been there for at least 5 minutes.  The other shopper says “sorry” and just walks away.

I stand there dumbfounded for a while and then head back to my car where I promptly call the cops.  At this point, the mom is standing OUTSIDE of her car holding the baby.  She’s not attempting to drive off or anything.  I watch her closely and I think she knows something is up.

I give the dispatcher all the information I have and she tells me to pretend I’m driving away.   She doesn’t want me to scare her into leaving.  The dispatcher calls mall security.  As I’m circling back around I see the mall security truck.  Thank goodness!   But, once I get to the spot, I notice that the car is gone.

Either I scared the mom or she moved her kids to another location.  I’m thankful that the kids are (supposedly) safe now that the mom is with them and that they’re no longer alone in the car.  But what if it happens again?  Why didn’t the mom take the kids in with her?  And why didn’t she leave immediately?

It’s just a hunch, but I wonder if she doesn’t work at the mall.  She was fairly well dressed and didn’t look like she was just “running errands.”  I hope this was a one-shot deal and that she doesn’t make a habit of leaving her kids in the car.  I know that childcare is expensive, but something terrible could have happened to those kids.

As I think back on this, there are plenty of things I wish I would have done differently. I wish I would have called the cops immediately. I wish I would have stayed instead of driving off. I wish I would have confronted the woman about WHY she just left her children in the car on an 80 degree day.

In the end, I’m glad I did *something* instead of just walking away, but I’ll be worrying about those kids a lot in the next few weeks.

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