Making the mistake of having the mind-set that “it could never happen to you” is the biggest mistake any parent could make when it comes to the safety of their child. I hope that by sharing our story you will talk about it so we can all learn from it.
This incident happened in a split second. I want to be detailed so parents can relate and really understand how easy this happened to us.
My 11 month old daughter, Jacqueline, was sick with a high fever all week and very fussy. My mother stayed all week to help with the baby so my husband and I could get some sleep because we were working night shift. Our boys (Nicholas 4 and Jonathan 2), being normal toddlers, were playing loudly in the house which would wake Jacqueline up every time she fell asleep. On the day of the incident my husband had the day off. My mother decided to stay so my husband could take the boys outside for the day and she could take care of the baby inside- maybe get her to nap in a quiet house. I planned on getting some rest too since I had to work again that night.
My mother woke me up frantic and said they couldn't find Nicholas. I flew downstairs and out the door. The quick story I got was that he was last seen in the driveway right at the garage door which was open. The boys asked to ride their power wheels police car and they were right at my husband's feet when he turned around to lift the police car out of the garage. When he turned back around to put it on the driveway Nicholas was gone. Jonathan wasn't able (or not willing) to give my husband a clue. He quickly checked the immediate area. The garage is attached to the house so he went inside to ask my mother if Nicholas came inside. When they couldn't find him my mother woke me.
First, I went to the spots that first came to my mind as the most dangerous a curious 4 year old boy would go. I ran down to the retention basin next to our back yard and stuck my head right inside the opening calling his name. No Nicholas. I ran through the woods in the back yard thinking maybe he tried getting to our friends house. He wasn't there but I asked them to go to a busy road that is close by because I was afraid Nicholas would wander there and be hit by a car. I ran across the street to a river which was flowing fast and high because we had three days straight of rain. There wasn't even a riverbank left to check. I ran back towards our house and I could see my husband was still looking so I began checking the streets in case he was hit by a car. No Nicholas.
I saw a friend of ours pull up to the house to help. She asked my husband if he checked the car. The new addition to our family, our minivan, was parked right at the entrance of the other garage door. Right next to where Nicholas was last seen. My husband looked inside and there was Nicholas sitting in the driver's seat. His hair was wet from the heat. All of the doors and windows were closed and it was a hot August day. Thank God our friend thought to check there!
What happened? Nicholas went around to the driver's side (opposite of where they were getting the police car out) and pulled on the sliding door handle which activates the van's automatic door. Our van is a new Honda Odyssey and the doors are very quiet when they open and shut. When the door opened, Nicholas went in and pushed the button closing the door behind him. When we asked him why he didn't come out he said the door locked. The doors were unlocked when my husband got him out and Nicholas knows how to press the button to get out the same way he got in. We don't know if he was hiding, playing, really locked in...It doesn't really matter. What matters is he could have died. The heat inside a closed vehicle is deadly, especially to a small child. If our friend didn't think to ask if we checked the cars when she did things could have been a lot worse. Nicholas was inside the hot van a total of twenty minutes.
My husband and I are police officers. We should have known better and checked the cars first...we know kids hide in cars. We both assumed the minivan was locked but it wasn't. We frantically checked all of the other places in the area we thought were dangerous and never thought to check the van right in front of us- right where he was last seen. Cars are one of the biggest dangers to kids whether they are moving or not.
Please make sure your cars are locked and of course even if you think they are locked still check the cars when a child is missing. Kids are curious and you just never know. We don't allow our kids to play in the car but I still reminded Nicholas he's not allowed to go in the car unless we are with him. I also taught him to beep the horn if he is ever inside a car and can not get out. Please take this and learn from our nightmare of a day! Thank you!