If you are new to my site you might want to read the previous chapters in Our Story before reading on.
I was excited. Sailor needed to fly to Puerto Rico to take a test and we were able to travel with him. For some reason the thought of traveling with four small children didn’t phase me, I just needed to get off the island!
Since a rental vehicle and hotel room would be paid for by the Navy, all we needed to pay for were the flights. MAC flights were about $20 a person so we were going on vacation!
I made my gigantic shopping list and couldn’t wait to shop at Walmart and go out to dinner! We flew to Puerto Rico, checked in to the Navy Lodge and the next morning Sailor left to take his test. We only had a few days on the island so as soon as he returned from his test we headed into San Juan for shopping.
Now, the kids didn’t care much about the shopping trip, but we kept them happy with all the things that typically keep kids happy, junk food, cheap toys, and promises of dessert after dinner.
After dinner we loaded the four very tired children into the minivan and began the long drive back to the hotel. It was way past their bedtime and they all started to doze off on the drive home. I was about to join them in dreamland when, at a stoplight, a figure ran through the intersection. Seconds later police were swarming.
There were squad cars blocking all traffic and police in helmets and vests running around with guns. I tried to remain calm, which lasted about four seconds. Sailor was screaming for me to get the kids on the floor of a van, it looked like we might be in the middle of a shoot out. I screamed that I didn’t want to take them out of their carseats because it could be dangerous. He yelled something about getting head’s shot off and I started waking kids up and trying to get them on the floor.
Almost as quickly as it began, police got in their cars and sped off, sirens blaring and lights flashing. I told Sailor our life was more like a movie than real life and he agreed. “Why do these things always happen to us?” I joked as we continued the drive back to the hotel.
When we pulled into the parking lot at the Navy Lodge all four kids were asleep in the van. It was almost midnight and I was exhausted. I looked back at our van full of kids and shopping bags and was trying to figure out the best way to get it all in the hotel room in the quickest amount of time.
We woke up the older two children and pulled the van right up to the entrance of our room corridor. We handed them the hotel key and all the leftover food from the restaurant and told our oldest to take the food and her six year-old brother to the room and get ready for bed. We would park the car and be there in a minute.
Sailor parked the van and we grabbed the little boys, still sleeping in their car seats, and as many bags as we could manage and headed to the room.
We opened the door to the hotel room and our daughter was getting ready for bed.
“Is T in the bathroom?” I asked when I realized our son wasn’t in the room.
Our daughter responded that she thought he had waited for us and hadn’t come into the room with her.
What? Not with her? He had only been out of our sight for a minute? I watched him turn the corner of the hotel hallway! Where could he have gone? There was only one hallway, and nowhere else to go.
I bolted from the room and looked up and down the hall.
No sign of him.
I ran into the parking lot thinking maybe he got turned around and came back to look for us. Of course he should have passed us on his way out but kids are tricky like that sometimes.
I didn’t see him anywhere.
It had now been at least 4 minutes since I had seen my son. I knew every minute that I didn’t know where he was meant he could be further away from me. He was a shy, quiet kid. He never wandered off, and didn’t talk to people we knew, let alone a stranger. There was no way he wouldn’t have followed his sister to the room.
As I was in the parking lot I saw a car back out of a space and start to leave. Fear and panic took over my entire being. No car was going to leave the hotel until I found my son. I ran in front of the car almost jumping on the hood.
“HAVE YOU SEEN MY SON?”
I screamed to the driver of the car. They opened the door and tried to figure out why a hysterical woman was jumping on cars. I tried to explain what was going on and before I could finish they offered to help look for him.
Sailor had called the police and begun knocking on every door of the hotel room, waking up every single person in the lodge asking if they had seen our son. The hotel backed up to acres and acres of forest. I prayed that he hadn’t wandered off in to the trees because we would never find him in the dark.
The military police had arrived and informed us they had shut down the entire base. No car was allowed off base until it was thoroughly searched. A team of at least ten police started searching the hotel for our son.
Since Sailor had woken everyone in the hotel many other people began to help us search. A family offered to watch our other children so we could continue to look for him. I couldn’t believe I was leaving my three other kids in a hotel room with a family I didn’t know, but I had no choice.
As the seconds turned to minutes and the minutes turned into an hour I grew more desperate. I knew in my heart he hadn’t wandered off, but I didn’t want to think that someone could harm my son.
I called my parents. I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth… I was hysterical. My parents finally realized what I was trying to tell them and said they would pray. There was nothing else they could do.
With every minute we couldn’t find him my heart sunk. I’m a realist, I know these types of stories don’t usually have happy endings. I kept thinking, I will not leave Puerto Rico without my son, if I have to live in this hotel for the rest of my life, I’m not leaving without him.
As the night went on the combination of exhaustion and adrenaline was wreaking havoc on me. I would go from calm and strategic to hysterical in seconds.
I began to wonder how families whose children were missing days, months, and years lived. I was fighting to breathe every single second, I couldn’t imagine bearing this pain, this fear, for the rest of my life.
Two hours had passed.
Then, as I was walking down the hotel corridor, I heard a lot of noise in the parking lot. I walked faster, not wanting to miss out on any information that could help find my son.
As I turned the corner I heard three words that brought me to my knees.
“We found him.”
There here was, half asleep in the arms of a police officer.
I ran towards them, completely overtaken by more emotion than I’d ever felt in my life. I sobbed. I grabbed my son and held him. I didn’t want to let him go, ever again.
I tried to pay attention as the police explained that a guest of the hotel and found him, asleep, in the back of his car. At that point I didn’t care what happened, or how he got in the car, or any other details. I was overwhelmed with so many emotions, I couldn’t even process what the police were telling us.
“Poor little guy,” said the police. “He must have been so tired he wandered back into the car, except he got into the wrong car.”
Yes, poor little guy. So tired, wandered off….
We were exhausted so we thanked everyone (over forty people) for helping us and collapsed into bed with our little boy between us.
We had plans to sightsee the next day, but I was so fearful of losing him again we stayed in the hotel room, eating leftovers and playing with cheap toys. Sailor and I discussed the events from the night before, and started to think more clearly about what had happened.
I was in the hotel corridor when they found our son, but Sailor was in the parking lot. The car he was found in was a two door. He was found in the passenger side of the backseat, asleep. The driver’s seat was flipped up, indicating that he would have climbed into the car from the driver’s side.
Both car doors were locked.
The more I thought about it, the more I knew that it just didn’t make sense that a sleepy boy would have climbed in a car (when we owned a van), crawled across the seat, and somehow managed to lock the doors. I started to grow alarmed, that the “hero” who had found our son in the back of his car was the one who had put him there in the first place.
The night before, Sailor and I decided we would tell the kids that their brother had been lost, as to not scare them with a words like kidnapped or abducted. We had also decided to refer to it as “getting lost” to our son.
I couldn’t stand the thought that someone might have tried to take our son. I wanted him to be found and questioned, and locked away for the rest of his life so he couldn’t do this to someone else.
We walked out to the parking lot hoping to find the car from the night before. It was gone. We asked a few people if they had seen the “hero.” No one had.
Later that day in casual conversation we asked our son if he remembered how he got into the car. He said a man in a gray shirt helped him.
Man in a gray shirt?