I had heard the stories, seen it in movies, and read about it in newspapers. I believed it was the sort of event that only happens to other people. The day I picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1 changed my awareness of how it could happen to me. My six year-old son was missing.
It was around four o’clock on Friday afternoon. Jake and I arrived home from our week of work and school and we were ready to start the weekend. He asked if he could ride his scooter over to see the neighbor kid, Ricky, at his house. I figured it would be good for him to go over for a while and expend some of that never-ending boyish energy. “That’s fine”, I said. “Just make sure you follow the rules.”
Jake knew what his boundaries for playing outside were. He could ride around the block we lived on, but no crossing streets, and be sure to make it home before the sun started to set. He adhered well to the rules. Jake and Ricky spent a good deal of time together, riding scooters and hanging out at one house or the other, so it wasn’t unusual for him to be gone for an hour or two.
As I finished up with some emails I had been working on, I looked outside my office window to see the sky had turned to the familiar shade of pink that meant the sun was starting to set. The clock said it was six o’clock so I walked outside to call Jake in for the night.
“Jake,” I called in my familiar mom tone. He would come scooting around the corner usually, but there was no sign of him.
“Jaaa-cob,” I yelled. Neither boy appeared so I walked over to Ricky’s house and asked his family if Jake was there.
“We haven’t seen them,” Ricky’s older brother said. “Not in a while.”
I decided to walk around the block to search for the boys. If Jake had gone into a neighbor’s house I would see his scooter on the front porch, but with no sight of them or the scooter I returned home. I felt uneasy as I got into my car to drive around and look for them. It was 6:30 and not yet dark, but as the sky became dark shades of orange, I knew it would be soon. I made one more stop over at Ricky’s house to ask if they knew where the two might have gone. Ricky’s brothers told me of a kid’s apartment on the next street that Ricky sometimes goes to or I could try the community center a few blocks away.
I drove to the kid’s apartment and had no luck there. As I drove to the community center I could feel my pulse quicken and my chest growing tighter. Jake had never been this far away from home without me. I pulled into the lot and I nervously walked in the building looking around for the boys. I asked the attendants at the front desk if they had seen them; they hadn’t. Walking outside I noticed the sky’s hue of reddish-purple. I felt the knot in my stomach grow into a bowling ball of nerves.
Getting into my car, I grabbed my cell phone and dialed my Mom. I explained how I couldn’t find Jake and I was freaking out because it was getting dark. “I will be right over“, she said. “But as soon as we hang up you need to call the police.” We hung up the phone and, filled with trepidation, I dialed 9-1-1 and reported my child missing.
I navigated my car back to my house and explained to the operator, “Jake is six-years-old and I can’t find him anywhere!” I gave my name and address.
“Make sure to hurry home,” she said. “I have a car on its way.”
Pulling in my driveway, I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw the black and white squad car pull up to my house. I felt a mixture of panic and relief as a male and
female officer exited the car and approached me. The male introduced himself as Officer Grant and his partner, Officer Stevenson. We walked into my home and they asked all the pertinent questions: What is my child’s name? Who was Jacob with? How long had he been gone? What is Jacob wearing? Do I have a recent photo of him? I went to my office and grabbed his Kindergarten school photo. Hands shaking, I passed it to him.
Out front of my house another squad car had pulled up. I had previously explained that Jake had been with Ricky and the newly arriving officers went to Ricky’s house to speak with his parents. There were now two children missing and more officers were arriving. Officer Grant explained that they were going to perform a door to door search of the neighborhood.
A car pulled to the curb and out came my mother. She walked over to me and I had the natural reaction an upset child has when they see their mom; I fell into her arms and started to cry. It was a relief to get out some of the nerves and stress I was feeling but I had to regain my composure. The search was still on for my boy.
By 8:30 the sky was completely void of any signs of the sun. My child had been gone for more than four hours. I stood on the front porch with Officer Grant, listening to the crackle of the radio on his shoulder as his fellow officers relayed information back and forth. That’s when I heard the familiar sound overhead. Jake normally would run outside to look for the helicopter making all the noise. However, this time it was different; this time the helicopter was looking for him.
The police helicopter flew over my house, illuminating the blue-black sky with its bright light. I am usually curious to know what they happen to be looking for, but this time I knew for sure. I felt shaky and sick as I began to feel panic enveloping my body.
I had no idea what they would find as they shone the search light down dark alleys and in empty backyards. I kept thinking how surreal this all was; this wasn’t really happening. I felt like I was living out a scene from a movie.
I stared blindly down my street, watching the flashing lights of the squad cars as they silently drove house to house. It was horrifying knowing that they were knocking on doors, talking to my neighbors, and showing a picture of my boy.
Officer Grant had walked down to the corner and I watched as he tilted his head down to the radio on his shoulder and listened to the incoming information. “Roger, that,“ he said as he walked over to me with purpose. I felt myself shrink back out of fear about what he might say. He didn’t hesitate one bit as he must’ve sensed my panic.
“We have them,” he said. “They were found playing in a house three blocks away. We’re loading them up and bringing them home.”
The relief was unbelievable; the weight of the world was suddenly off my shoulders. I thanked him profusely as the squad car containing my son pulled up to the curb. Officer Grant opened the back door for Jake and he got out, looking a little scared himself. I ushered him into the house and my Mom took him to his room as I finished up with the police.
I asked Officer Grant, “What kind of person has two six-year-olds at their house and doesn’t wonder if maybe there are parents out there worried about them?”
“Who knows?” he replied.
“What happens now?” I asked. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I have a bill to pay for the time and resources spent looking for my son? Was I in trouble for not keeping better watch of him?
“You just need to go take care of your son and be thankful that he made it home safe tonight,” he responded. “We were lucky. Keep a close eye on him.”
I promised I would as I thanked all of the officers and shut the door to my home as they all pulled away. Four hours, four squad cars, and a police helicopter later, my son was home.
As it turned out, they had been watching cartoons at the house they were found at. Ricky had not wanted to leave and Jake didn’t know how to get back home, so he stayed and waited. Neither boy was truly aware of how late it had gotten
Jake is now ten-years-old. I will never again think “this can’t happen to me”. I am truly aware of how vulnerable each child is, even mine. The thought of having to relive those four hours is horrifying. I had the blessed fortune to have my child found unscathed; I don’t take it for granted. We have since moved and live on a cul-de-sac, but I keep a vigil watch. He still knows his boundaries of where he can go and what time he comes home. Even if I do let the leash a little loose, I am not far behind, following in my car.