About one week before the little girl from Springfield, Mo., was kidnapped, killed, and left to be found by the police, the rains hit Northern Utah. The rain, because of the warm front that pushed across the Wasatch Front, melted the thick sheets of hardened snow and ice that had turned brown and had concreted out lawns.
One morning during that rainy week, I drove my son to grandma's house for her day as his caregiver. There is an elementary school that I drive by every time we head that way. I must slow my car down to less than ten miles an hour about one half a mile before I even get to the school crosswalk because there are always bunches of neighborhood kids walking to school together, and they have a tendency to jolt out into the middle of the road without warning. By the time I hit the two-way stop where the friendly crossing guard waves to me and directs elementary kids of all ages across the road safely, I am at a near-complete stop and must wait for five or so minutes to get through. Having done this route twice a week for the last seven months, I have started to recognize faces, the crossing guard recognizes me, and the routine has been set in.
That morning, I followed a white car toward the school. The driver, like me, slowed to make sure he or she (I couldn't tell from behind) didn't run over any unpredictably moving children. Two kids -- I'm guessing they were between the ages of eight and 10 though my wife says I'm a horrible guesser -- walked along the left side of the road. They had pulled their raincoats over their heads to keep their hair from getting wet and weaved along the shoulder of the road because of their newly limited vision.
The white car in front of me stopped beside them and flung the right side passenger door open. The children leaned inside for a moment and talked to the driver. They glanced at each other then talked to the driver again. Then, after another moment of hesitation, they climbed in the car.
That freaked me out. More specifically, the brief hesitation from the kids freaked me out. If the person in the car were a mom, grandma, grandpa, or aunt and uncle, there would not have been hesitant looks tossed between the two children who had another couple blocks to walk in the rain and would have preferred to be in grandma's dry car. They would have jumped in the second the door opened. If one of their moms pulled up beside them, again, before the car stopped, they would have been waving their arms for a ride. But, instead, they had a very brief conversation with driver, hesitated, and then jumped in.
With my little guy in the car seat behind me, even though he didn't really contribute to the decision-making process, we decided to follow the car to make sure that those kids got dropped off at their school. If they didn't, we were going to follow them to wherever they were going.
The white car moved ahead with its new passengers in tow, and, while I had sincere worries, it dropped them off at the school a few blocks down the road. I, admittedly, am no hero. But I know heroes, and I know that at the end of a 911 call, heroes will answer, so my plan was simple. If that car went anywhere other than the school, I was calling 911 and waiting until the police broke a door down.
I know that part of the country where that little girl was kidnapped. My wife grew up very close to there. It is filled with genuinely nice people and there really is an unlocked door social norm there, but as the police found out, the man who took her knew who she was. He wasn't a stranger, just like the person in the white car who picked up those kids on their way to school, and who, as it turns out, had good intentions. But we can never know, and that is sad. It was obvious that their parents had talked to them about getting in cars with people because their hesitation showed it.
I, typically, like to end my columns with something warm and fuzzy and with a nice little bow to tie things up, but there will be none of that today. My heart is broken for that little girl (all the little ones who have been taken and hurt) and her family.
There is no blame to be put on the little girl. There is no blame to be put on her parents. There is no blame to be put on the people that called the cops or wrote down his license plate. The only blame is on the man that took her.
I'm an optimist at heart, but sometimes this world is just evil, and there is a special place in hell for a man like that.