I was on my lunchtime walk today and heard a child screaming. I looked to my left and saw a skinny man in a dingy t-shirt hauling a young girl in pink to his car. Was she not ready to go home? (The playground was nearby) Was she tired? (It was around 1:30, a common time for kids to need a nap) Or was she being kidnapped?
I stopped walking the way I was headed and started walking towards them. I considered taking a picture of his car. It was beat up, ratty, faded blue. It was a cheap car. He suited it. He had stubble and a ball cap. He looked trashy. I started to regret that there was a stream between us so I had to walk the long way around. It made me take a little more time than I wanted.
When I got there he had already put her in her car seat in the back. I stopped on the passenger side, where I could see him and her, but not put me in a vulnerable position. He had rolled down the front passenger window to cool the car off. He hadn’t driven off quickly. She had stopped crying. I thought maybe I’m jumping the gun, but I’d rather be sure. She looked to be around 7. I asked in a sing-song voice “What’s the matter?” while looking at her. I wanted to seem non-confrontational, but obviously I am confronting him. I wanted to seem like a casual observer, an interested passerby.
He told me that she didn’t want to leave. “You know how little girls are. I had a little boy once and he was fine.” Notice he said “I had a little boy once.” He didn’t say “my son”. This really didn’t feel right all over again.
I looked her in the eyes, willing her to tell me that something was wrong, or everything was alright. Nothing. She gave me nothing.
He gave her a drink to sip on. Surely only a Dad would think to have a beverage for his kid, right? Nope. A smart kidnapper would do the same to keep the child quiet. So that didn’t help me figure this out.
I was going to have to push it a little. I looked at her and asked her – “Do you know each other?” I got nothing from her. I was a stranger. Don’t talk to strangers, you know. But I’m a small woman. I’m not threatening. But yes, I’m a stranger, and this is a strange interaction. I don’t blame her for not answering.
He got defensive. “She’s my daughter!” I pointed out that screaming like that sounds like she’s being kidnapped. I kept looking at her. Nothing. I wondered again what to do. I felt it out. I weighed everything I knew, everything I saw. I wasn’t getting that “push” feeling I get when I have to act.
I decided to let it go. His story could be true. By this point no other parent is running up. I’ve bought some time. He looks like a strict disciplinarian. She hasn’t indicated to me that anything is wrong. She also hasn’t indicated everything is right.
I backed off. I walked away. And then I stopped, looking at the car, looking at them. He drove away, slowly. She didn’t scream. She didn’t hit on the windows. I still felt like something was off, but I don’t think he was kidnapping her. I think he was her Dad, and that he was frustrated and tired and not sure how to deal with a child who is equally frustrated and tired.
I don’t know what I would have done if I’d actually thought he was kidnapping her. I could have called the police but I had no way of keeping him there until they came. Take pictures – of him, the car, the license plate? This would probably be my best option. That way I’d have something to give the cops.
I still don’t know for sure what happened. But I’m glad I stopped.