Monday, August 2, 2010

Lost and found

Last Wednesday night I took my children to a farewell dinner at a community park for friends who were moving. Ben was at work-related meeting and I was glad to take the kids to free dinner! I told them we'd have to leave just before 8pm to go and pick up pictures at Costco for a church camp they were all participating in that week. While at the park, my kids seemed to be playing happily. Jacob and Ian had brought their Razor scooters and Jacob was taking full advantage of riding the many sidewalks at the large park. I have to admit I checked on my boys only every once in a while, since Kate is usually the one I worry about. This park also had a clear perimeter, so it’s not like they could just wander off. I even remember saying to someone that night, "I have to check on Kate all the time, but I don't worry as much about my older boys."
About 7:50pm I started picking up our things and getting ready to go. I looked for my kids to tell them we were leaving, but could only find Ian and Kate. I got the kids and stuff in the car, thinking Jacob was around somewhere, probably on his Razor, since I couldn't find that either. I would look for him after I got the baby and stuff in the car. I sent Ian on the other Razor to look around the park, to see if he could see Jacob near the perimeter of the park. It was getting dark at this point and it was hard to see that far. Ian didn't find him so I left all the kids in the van and headed out on the Razor myself to look for Jacob. I told some of our friends who were still at the park that Jacob was missing and they helped me look. I was a little worried, but not too much, knowing he must be hiding in some bushes, or in the bathrooms.
Just after 8pm I started to really worry. We had exhausted all possibilities at the park. A police officer was routinely circling the parking lot, and I approached him to help. He got out of his car and began peppering me with questions. He notified his unit. I called Ben to come home from his meeting. Friends were still looking around the park. The officer kept asking me if he could have gone home, but I didn’t think he would know the way home. Plus, it was pretty far. I was holding back tears as I answered endless questions and began calling people (at the request of the police) who had been at the park, especially Jacob’s friends he had been playing with.
During that first fifteen minutes, some men who had been playing soccer in an adjacent field came to the police and told them they had seen a strange man hovering around the park that evening. They said they may have seen him taking a little boy away from near the bathrooms. At this point, I broke down. Just the sheer terror of the reality that someone could have taken my child swept over me. The officer tried to keep me calm by telling me that most likely, that had not happened. They detained the witnesses, however, and they remained there throughout the search, as an embodiment of that very real, horrifying possibility. Others who were at the park began calling members of our ward and stake. Our bishop’s phone was ringing off the hook, he told me later.
The search shifted as we got a call from a member of our ward who said that his wife, our Relief Society president, had seen Jacob near our neighborhood pool. She had happened to see him while driving by and noted the time. Her husband called her a few minutes later and told her we were searching for Jacob. She told him that she had seen him. We told the police and our search moved to our neighborhood. I was detained at the park, but we all felt relieved that someone had seen Jacob, that he had made it home on his scooter. But the search was still on. In the meantime, Ben was told to go home instead of coming to the park. The police wanted someone at home, waiting, with the lights on, so Jacob would stay there if he went home again. We called all of our neighbors and church members who live close by to begin looking. Emails went out and more people responded to those. Police were sent to any locations we thought Jacob might go to…friends, the school, etc. Finally the police officer said he had been found. Seconds later, we found out that a church friend who knew Jacob had found him and he was safe.

Jacob’s story:

Jacob left the park because he had soiled his pants. He was embarrassed and didn't want to tell anyone. He took matters into his own hands and decided to go home on his Razor, take a shower and change. It was three miles, and he crossed at least two busy streets to get there. He did make it home, but no one was there and the doors were locked. So he decided to ride to Costco, since that is where we had planned to go after going to the park, thinking we would be there. That is when Kim, our Relief Society president, happened to see him as he rode past our neighborhood pool. Jacob rode another two miles to Costco, but it was closed. Then he headed back home. By this time it was dark and he was really scared. He stopped and said a prayer that he would make it home. A few blocks later, as he was crossing a very busy six-lane, 50 mile-an-hour speed-limit road with oncoming traffic, our dear friend Jennie saw him. She didn’t know we were looking for him. She got him in her van to take him home. She dropped him off at the pool where many people had gathered to help search for him.
Jacob rode a total of 7 miles and was missing for an hour. He could have been kidnapped. He could have been hit by a car. But he is safe. He is safe.

I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am. First, for prayer, and for those who answered those prayers. I am grateful to police officers, who do their job every day, who use experience and training to help efficiently in times of crisis. I am amazed by the network of the church, how fast we were able to find Jacob, how many people stopped to pray and moved into action at a moment’s notice. I believe that angels were there to help us that night, both angels on earth, who stood by our side, who searched, who watched my other children, who held my baby, who called and mobilized others, who drove me home, and angels in heaven, who I believe watched out for Jacob on his journey. I also know it was through my relationships with two church sisters, whom I would otherwise never have met, that Jacob was found. They knew him, recognized him in the dark and helped him find his way home. The Lord also knows us, recognizes us and helps us to find our way home. It is through others that He does so. I realize things could have turned out differently, if that had been the Lord’s will. But it was not, and for now I am grateful for my family and having my son safe at home.