Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Poof! She was gone!

One evening last year, the wife and I took our kids out to dinner. Afterwards, we walked over to a Barnes and Noble bookstore to browse for a while. The kids made a beeline for the children's section as usual. We dutifully followed behind. Our daughter ran over to a large layout of Thomas the Tank Engine trains they have setup for the kids. I stayed near her as my wife assisted our son with his literary selections. After a while I sat down with my son to read one of his books. Our daughter was still contentedly playing with the trains. A couple minutes passed. I looked up as my wife walked over to me. "Where's our daughter?" she asked. I looked over toward the trains. No daughter.

Poof! She was gone!

I was sure she was just sitting down somewhere in the children's section reading a book. We quickly searched the kids' area. No luck. We headed out into the main part of the store combing the nearby aisles. Still no luck. The restrooms were nearby. As my wife checked them I took our son and headed towards the front of the store. I stopped a clerk and mentioned that my daughter was missing. He quickly called a manager and relayed the description of my daughter. The manager then made a cryptic announcement on the PA system. "Attention all employees, Code Adam. Code Adam."

I wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but in an instant a clerk had closed the front doors of the store (which had been propped open to the warm evening breeze) and stood watch next to them. A handful of other clerks quickly gathered at the front of the store, listened to the manager quietly explain who they were looking for, and proceeded to systematically search every aisle. Meanwhile my wife had joined me up front. She was getting a little freaked out at this point. I was still sure our daughter was sitting somewhere with her nose in a book. The manager picked up the phone and called the security office of the shopping center. He told them that they had a "Code Adam" and gave my daughter's description. A few minutes later, a staff member reported back that the entire store had been searched to no avail.

The manager turned to me and suggested that I call the police. I was worried now. I dialed the cops. They said they would have officers on the scene in a few minutes. I had just hung up when a uniformed security guard arrived. He reported that security had contacted every store in the shopping center and informed them of the situation.

We waited.

I called my best friend. He does high-level security consulting. Not that I really needed a security expert, but I thought he would be able to help me search outside if need be. And it would be good to have a friend there with us. He said he and his wife could be at the shopping center in a few minutes. I didn't want to overreact, but I couldn't find my little girl!

I couldn't believe this was happening. Maybe somebody had grabbed her and taken off? No, I didn't think so. She would have made a loud fuss that I'm sure would have been noticed. Surely she was in the store. But, they had searched the store already. Could they have missed her? I stepped outside and began looking up and down the street. Nothing.

Suddenly a security guard, from the nearby Target, came running up to the store. Out of breath, he said that the staff at a Hallmark gift shop at the other end of the shopping center had found a little girl that appeared to be lost. He asked if I would follow him. I left my son with my wife, and the guard and I took off down the street at a run.

There was my little girl telling the lady from Hallmark that she didn't want to be held. She wasn't crying, but she was squirming quite a bit saying, "I want to get down!" When she saw me, she broke into tears and held out her arms. "Daddy!" I scooped her up and, after profusely thanking the woman who found her, walked back to the bookstore with her in my arms. Grateful, we thanked the bookstore staff and the guards. I called the police and my friend and told them that we had found my daughter.

All told less than 10 minutes had elapsed since we noticed her missing. I can't tell you how impressed I was with the speed and efficiency with which the bookstore's staff (and the other stores' as well) acted. I apologized to the manager for all the trouble. He told me not to worry, that this happened fairly often, and the important thing was to make sure the kids were safe.

I'm happy to say that my daughter has not run away like that again.

I remembered all this when I saw this item on Boing Boing. Apparently, the Legoland themepark now offers wi-fi tracking bracelets for your kids when they enter the park. How cool is that?

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