As Sophia Marshall walked up an alleyway near East 8th Avenue last Saturday night, she discovered a crying toddler strapped into a car seat sitting on the grass.
At first, Marshall, a second-year in communication, was in disbelief.
“I was just in shock,” Marshall said. “I thought it was a joke and somebody was tricking me or something.”
She immediately picked up the child, who she said was calling for his mother.
“I took the kid to my friend’s house and he called the cops,” Marshall said. “I sat with the child and watched TV with him and gave him chocolate milk.”
Marshall’s friend, Justin Kerbs, who lives about a block from where the toddler was found, said the situation felt “surreal” when she showed up at his door with a sobbing child.
“I was kind of like ‘I don’t believe her’ at first,” said Kerbs, who is studying radiology at Columbus State Community College. “At first I thought it was a baby doll and I didn’t know what she was talking about. It was so weird.”
Kerbs called 9-1-1. As he was speaking to the dispatcher, he saw a police car driving down the street.
“I flagged the cruiser down and it ended up having the uncle of the child inside,” Kerbs said.
Detective Brent Close of the Columbus Police, who is handling the case, said the child’s uncle, a maintenance technician, was assisting a tenant who had become locked out of their residence. He left his Kia SUV running with the 3-year-old in the backseat, only to return minutes later and discover that his vehicle had been stolen.
Close said incidents where cars are stolen with children inside usually happen a few times a year. He said the victims in this case were extremely lucky.
“Everyone is very fortunate that the 3-year-old was unharmed,” Close said. “Thank God nothing happened to the child.”
Close said in the majority of these incidents, the criminal is out to steal the car and doesn’t realize there is a child inside.
Emotions ran high as uncle and nephew were reunited, Kerbs said.
“It was awesome,” Kerbs said, of witnessing the reunion. “The guy was so relieved to find the kid, he seemed so overjoyed that he was almost tearing up.”
Police officers located the SUV, which was unoccupied, shortly after in an alley near the intersection of East 8th Avenue and North 4th Street. Evidence was collected from the vehicle, and the investigation is ongoing. The police report labels this incident as a kidnapping.