Lost and Found: My Holiday Nightmare
- EFN Staff | January 17, 2017
A parent's worst nightmare is having their child reported missing. My greatest fear happened over the holidays.
My daughter Sharlize and I spent our holidays alone in Regina. It’s hard to bring my daughter to any social events. Sharlize is a 7-year-old girl who is slightly nonverbal and has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Crowds cause Sharlize to have an overstimulation from a sensory overload which results in meltdowns. To prevent meltdowns, we often refrain from social outings.
On Boxing Day, my mom came to Regina to spend a few days with Sharlize and me. She insisted on babysitting for a few hours while my best friend Kaitlyn and I drove out to the spa in Moose Jaw. We stopped in on her dad for a quick visit. It was then that I received a phone call from an anonymous number. When I answered, it was the most devastating words that I will never forget. The voice on the other line, who happens to be my next door neighbour, said in the most heartbreaking tone “Your daughter wandered out of your house and is nowhere to be found. She is reported missing.”
I tried gasping for air but I couldn’t. I felt like the wind got knocked out of me. I mouthed the words to Kaitlyn, ‘we have to go’. As we raced back to Regina, my hands were shaking, the tears streamed down my face, and my mind ran a photographic memory of me kissing my daughter on the cheek before I left. I prayed that moment wouldn’t be the last time I saw Sharlize’s face. I felt so helpless so I called my friends in the city to gather at my place to start searching for my daughter.
Fifteen minutes later, a Regina Police Service officer called to confirm they had a search party of police officers and their K9-Unit looking for Sharlize in my neighbourhood – but had yet to find her. When I got off the phone, I started to pray that my daughter was safe and warm –wherever she was. When we pulled into my neighbourhood, I saw people carrying flashlights moving in different directions, police cars everywhere, and officers being led by the K9-Unit.
I jumped out of the car and ran in the streets yelling out my daughter’s name. Then a stranger ran towards me and said, “We checked the creek and inside the tunnel and still nothing. Where else should we look?” Those words struck me that my daughter was still nowhere to be found. I fell on my knees and cried. The stranger said, “Don’t worry. We’re going to find her”. He was right. We were going to find her. My daughter was out there somewhere, worried and scared, wandering on her own.
Everyone gathered back at my house and we divided up the search party. One of the police officers said my neighbour across the street checked their outside security camera and seen Sharlize walking east of my house. We had a lead that brought a slight sense of relief.
I went along with my friend to a few of the local businesses that Sharlize is familiar with to circulate a recent photo of Sharlize. My friend went inside Wal-Mart to circulate the photo to the store management. Fifteen minutes after we left, I received a phone call from the police saying they had Sharlize at Wal-Mart – safe and sound. We rushed back to the store and as we pulled up, I recognized my daughter in the store entrance. I ran into her arms praying in gratitude that my daughter was safe.
The next morning, I kept thinking of how grateful I was for my friends, the neighbours, the Regina Police Service, and their K9-Unit – all who have helped to find my daughter. I wanted to express my gratitude so we picked up a goodie basket with cards and dropped them off at the Regina Police Station and at Wal-Mart management. I captured the moment by taking a picture of one of the police officers and Sharlize holding the goodie basket.
A week later, a few of the police officers who were in the search party stopped by my house to drop off a gift bag for Sharlize in return for the goodie basket we gifted them. I was so moved and touched by their heartwarming gesture.
This whole experience has taught me many lessons. As my daughter continues to grow older, I need to adjust to these changes. No one was at fault for Sharlize going missing. She learned how to unlock the deadbolt, and was brave enough to walk alone in the dark. As the saying goes, disability does not mean inability.
I am taking the precautions to ensure this incident won’t happen again. I am applying for an autism service dog for my daughter, which will stop her from wandering off and will also provide emotional support during a meltdown so we can rejoin society and socialize again. Until then, we installed a childproof lock on top of the door and I will be getting Sharlize a GPS tracking bracelet. Sharlize will continue to learn about street safety and to understand that she cannot leave anywhere without an adult.
Lastly, I’ve learned that our police officers are truly committed and caring to our community. That evening, they made my daughter their first priority. They truly stand by their mission statement, “Public Service First”. I will forever be grateful for the Regina Police Service and their K9-Unit. Thank-you!