Last Monday was the most terrifying day of my life! It started out normal enough. I took the two older girls to school, came back home while C finished getting ready for school and made hot chocolate for himself and L. We took C to school then headed on to Target where L was super excited to shop around and spend a $25 gift card she'd received the day before! We shopped around a while and spent $20 from the gift card.
I took this picture for the friend who gave her the gift card so she could see which toys L had picked out. Little did I know this photo would be shared all over the news and social media just a few hours later. (Remind me to always brush her hair!)
After Target we headed over the chiro for my appointment. L knew she still had $5 on her gift cards and wanted to go back to Target for one more item. So we went in and bought the wrong surprise egg (totally different brand/item) than she thought she was getting. She opened it in the parking lot and was super disappointed so we went back in to Target (for the third time that morning), exchanged the open surprise egg for the brand she wanted (which I was surprised they let her exchange it after it had been opened. I thought that was really sweet of them!) and left the store. On the way home we called my mom and chatted with her the entire 20 plus minutes back to our house.
Once home I brought the dog out front and put him on his chain, checked the mail and straightened up a few things in the front yard. All this time the front door was wide open and L was sitting on the bottom of the stairs, just inside the front door, playing with her new toys.
I brought the dog in. Locked the front door. Fed the dog. Washed my hands. Made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for L but she wanted to play with her new toys and wasn't interested in eating. She wanted me to pull down a bin of toys from the top of her closest so I did that. I told her I was going to the bathroom and then wanted to lay down and relax for a while before we had to leave to pick up the older kids from school. She insisted she wasn't tired, didn't want to take a nap and was just going to play in her room. I went to the bathroom in the next room over and when I came out I called her name and asked if she wanted [had decided] to eat her sandwich now. No answer.
I looked in her room, she wasn't there. Ran back to my bedroom and looked in my bed because sometimes she does get tired and lays down in my bed. She wasn't there. Called out her name several times. Told her to come out if she was hiding. Looked in all the upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms. Ran downstairs calling her name and was met with dead silence. I looked in every room downstairs. Ran back upstairs and looked in every room again and again. Tore covers completely off most the beds, looked under beds, in closets. Ran back downstairs just screaming her name. Silence. I was totally panicked now and called my husband, hysterical! Then I called 911! Searched the whole house again and again. The back door and front door were both locked so I had no idea how she would have gotten outside but I ran outside anyway screaming her name. Knocked on the next door neighbors' door in a total panic. Police cars started showing up then. Several police officers and I searched the house again and again. They were looking in the garage, the attic, the woods behind our house, storm drains on the street and who knows where else. I was completely hysterical and kept saying I had searched the whole house and she just wasn't there. One of my sweet neighbors kept trying reassure me that L had to be somewhere inside the house because I had said the doors were all locked when I went downstairs. I was certain they had been locked but after searching the entire house thoroughly it was in my mind that someone must have come in somehow and taken her while I was in the bathroom. Maybe I had been wrong about the locked doors or maybe the doors had somehow been locked after she was taken? My mind had totally gone into hysterical panic mode. I kept telling the police officers that I just knew she wasn't in the house and they kept asking why I was trying to direct them that way but I was totally convinced I had searched every possible place in the house so she had to have been taken. (I watch a ton of true crime and have seen/read too many true stories of kidnapped children who were long gone while officers focused on the looking in/around the house.. I'm sure that's where that thought came from. I kept screaming at officers to stop every car on the street, on the highway, etc) I ran house to house just screaming, pounding on doors while the policemen were out front, stopping cars, on their radios, sharing her photo and info, searching the house. I hysterically stopped cars in the street and told neighbors to get out and look for L! The officers had L's most recent photo by then and it was all over the news and social media. My husband came home, church friends started showing up, so many neighbors were out searching. My mom, sister and brother back in Texas were hysterical and had called around to extended family and friends in Texas. People were praying frantically. Meanwhile I kept searching the house in between running around outside like a crazy person. Officers were all over the house. In my closet, in the garage. Someone was always searching around inside. I finally calmed down enough to sit down and started going through my morning with a detective. It was an awful feeling having to give an alibi and show all my receipts from that morning. I never thought I would be questioned like that in a million years. How I was able to sit somewhat calmly for a few minutes is beyond me. I just wanted to keep looking for L. After sitting down talking to the detective for a few minutes (she had been missing well over an hour by this time) I heard the sweetest little sound I ever heard in my life!! L was starting to cry and it sounded like it was coming from upstairs! I had no idea where she could have been because I swear I had searched the entire upstairs thoroughly! But a fire captain had found her with a body heat camera (lol!) sleeping towards the middle/end of our bed! Apparently she had hidden all the way under the down comforter which had laundry on top of it. She snuggled way down towards the center/bottom of the bed to hide and fell into a deep sleep. It's crazy that she never heard all of the chaos going on all around her. I had searched that bed several times by flipping the comforter back (just not back far enough) and patting the laundry but somehow we had all missed her for over an hour! So bizarre! I even saw one officer searching under the same bed. Why I never took the comforter or laundry completely off that bed is beyond me! I guess I assumed if she wasn't sleeping in her normal position (head on or near pillows) she wasn't in my bed. In hindsight it seems absolutely crazy that I didn't tear my bed apart like I tore the kids' beds apart but for some reason I just didn't. I thought patting the comforter and laundry on the lower end of the bed was enough I suppose. L was just waking up when the fire captain found her and brought her downstairs. I had truly thought I may never see her again so you can't even begin to imagine the relief I felt! The relief my husband and everyone else felt! I found out later police officers from a 50 mile radius had been called in. The police dogs, police helicopter and drone were all on their way when she was found.
Over a week later my emotions are still a little all over the place! The terror I felt was so, so real. I've never felt that sheer terror or hysteria in my life. I hope I never feel that way again. Even after she was found and safe in my arms I had a hard time calming down. I still feel a little terrified over the whole ordeal. I also feel really embarrassed. My child was in my bed while I totally lost my mind and upset a whole lot of people and wasted their time, energy and resources. My relief and gratitude far outweigh any embarrassment but I can't help feeling pretty silly. I realize my husband and multiple trained officers weren't able to find her for over and hour either but I was the one who was home with her when she "went missing" and I'm the one who set the whole search in motion. I feel so much overwhelming gratitude that I can't even express it properly. The police officers, fire fighters, emergency personal were all absolutely amazing! Our neighbors were amazing! Our community was amazing! The story was on several local news site and all over social media. I never saw or heard one unkind words toward me. Just others expressing relief and gratitude that she had been found safely. Others sharing stories of similar experiences they had had with their child or stories they knew about that happened to someone else. People could have easily made fun, been annoyed and unkind but everyone has been extremely kind and gracious.
L and I took donuts to local police department the next morning and to the fire station a few days later. There's no way I could possibly thank them enough but wanted to extend some kind of thank you.
Several of the officers who had searched for L came out to talk to us at the police station. A few of them are pictured here with her. They gave her some stickers, a notebook, little bracelet and a few other things. So sweet!
A couple days later we took donuts to the fire station but weren't able to see the fire captain who actually found her. Here are a couple of the fireman who were looking for L. Again everyone at the police station and fire department were so kind and gracious when we visited them and assured us they were just really relieved and happy with the outcome!
Of course this story would have happened to L! Everything seems to happen to this child lol! She has more stories in 4 years than all the other older 3 combined.