A Mom gathered 2 of her kids and headed out to the grocery store leaving her 3 year old son home with Dad. About an hour into the shopping trip, Dad called his wife to ask if she brought the 3 year old with her to the store.
"No", she replied. "I told you I was leaving him home with you."
"That's what I thought but I can't find him anywhere and was hoping he was with you."
Mom raced home to find her husband checking the house for every possible hiding place. They screamed his name and double checked every room. The front door was unlocked when she left for the store and the son had gone outside in the past to play in the front yard or with the other neighborhood kids.
She dials 911 and is on the verge of hysteria. Convinced her son has been kidnapped she is paralyzed with fear. My trainee and I arrive first at the house but don't see the parents. Mom is running door to door recruiting an army of frantic neighbors desperately searching for the boy. Mom sees us and runs over sobbing uncontrollably. We do our best to get the boy's description, clothing, and possible destinations. She tells us Dad is driving around the area and several neighbors can be heard yelling his name and checking bushes, garages, and cars.
I ask the mother if she has a swimming pool. Her eyes widen with terror and whimpers, "no, but my neighbors do." She had not thought of this possibility and I could tell my question sent her mind to an unknown level of desperation. I tell her, "Calm down. We're going to find your boy." I look her directly in the eyes as I speak and hope she believes my assurance. I tell her to wait out in front of the house in case he wandered by.
With several other officers in the area, I go into the house to make sure the boy's not there. My Sergeant has arrived and is also checking inside the home. As I'm looking under beds and opening cupboards, I hear my Sergeant announce, "He's right here." He gets on the radio and advises the other officers the boy has been found. I join him in a girl's bedroom and see the little guy wrapped in a sleeping bag fast asleep in the closet.
I walk towards the front door feeling the exhilaration building inside me. I know my next words will affect Mom in a way she's probably never felt or even anticipated.
"Mom.", I say. "We found him. He's inside."
"WHAT!!" she shrieks.
"He's fine...sleeping in the bedroom closet."
Mom released a scream of fearful elation as she bolted for the house yelling her son's name. She ran into the boy's bedroom so I redirected her to his older sister's bedroom across the hall. She ran over to the closet, fell to her knees and scooped up the bundle of bedding and boy. She repeatedly screamed his name as the outpouring emotion took over. The boy awoke confused and dazed to be in his hysterical mother's arms.
"Oh my God, he's never done this before. I checked everywhere and yelled for him. I can't believe he was sleeping in there the whole time.", mom cried.
I told her to call her husband and let him know his boy was safe.
As I walked outside to my patrol car, mom carried her boy out into the yard to thank the neighbor's for their immediate and dedicated help. Dad pulled up and got out of his car. His cheeks were streaked with tears of relief, fear, and guilt. He gave me a smile and a nod since speech had not yet returned to his faculty of senses. He joined his wife and son with a long embrace.
I saw raw emotions that day like I've never experienced close up. I can't imagine the feeling of believing one of my own kids to be missing. I know how the mind races towards the unthinkable when panic and fear set in. I'm just glad this time the 'unthinkable' was an overlooked boy safe asleep in his sister's closet.