Bizarre Calls: Blindfolded Children on the Freeway

So here's a gem from my past:

While working a routine 24 hour shift, our dispatcher called my partner and me around 1 am on the radio to give out a "10-15" assignment.  We worked private EMS in a city with a tiered response system.  On an EMS call, we might be dispatched directly to handle the call, or we might be assigned to park a block or two away while the fire department responded to a call.  This would make us a convenient distance away if the fire department decided to assign the call to us.

Instead of telling us the location of the call, however, the dispatcher asked me to call her by phone.  Already I could tell this was going to be something out of the ordinary.

"Umm," she began, "the FD is responding to a call on the interstate about some children that might be trying to jump."  She gave me a location where the incident was unfolding.  The location was on a high-rise section of the interstate that was elevated between 50 and 75 feet up depending on exactly where they were.  Anyone jumping off that section of road wasn't going to survive.

"Do you want me on the interstate where they might be," I asked, "or underneath where they might land?"

"Sheesh, I don't know," she said.  "Just go see what you can see."

I decided to be an optimist, and I entered the freeway and drove toward the flashing lights in the distance.  When I pulled up, I saw a half dozen police cruisers, an engine, an ALS unit, and a personal vehicle on the side of the road.  I walked up to the ALS unit, passing the personal vehicle which was occupied by a professional looking woman, in her thirties, who looked visibly upset--distraught even, over whatever was going on.  I opened the side door to the ambulance, and peered inside.

Two paramedics, a deputy sheriff, and an engine boss were inside, with four children ages 6, 8, 10, and 13.  They were brothers and a sister, and they looked like the least upset people in the ambulance.

"Hey," I said.  "What's up?"

The lead paramedic turned to me and said, "This is what we know so far.  These kids were all at home in their beds, and a man wearing a mask broke into their house.  He had a gun, and he forced them all into his car, where he blindfolded them.  He brought them here, took them out of the car, and told them..."  She spun and looked at the kids, then back and me.  She beckoned with her finger that I should follow her outside.  Once outside, she continued her report:

"He brought them here and told them that they have to jump over the side of the road.  He said he was going to come back to check, and if they hadn't jumped, he was going to kill them, and then kill their mother."

"Holy fuck!" was all I could muster as a response.

"From what I understand, the guy just drove off.  This woman saw them and stopped and called 911."  I turned around and looked at the good Samaritan the paramedic had just pointed at.

"You okay?"  I asked.

"I honestly don't know the answer to that," she answered.

"Yeah...umm, yeah," I said.

The paramedic finished her report by telling me the kids seemed fine.  They said they weren't hurt by the intruder, he didn't strike them or manhandle them.  But the deputy was going to ask us to take them to Children's hospital for medical clearance.  She asked if I could take all four in one ambulance.

I didn't think separating the kids was very compassionate, so I said of course I could.  The deputy continued asking them some questions, while I called the dispatcher and let her know what was going on.  She had the same two-word response that I had uttered when I first heard the story.

When the deputy gave us the okay, we buckled all the kids up and started the fifteen minute transport to the regional children's hospital.  I was kept busy just trying to get all the kids information down before we arrived.  They were bright, cheerful, curious kids who had lots of questions about the ambulance and our equipment.  The 13 year old girl was clearly in charge, and she answered most of my questions.  I was particularly impressed she knew the dates of birth of all her siblings.

I took out the squad cell phone to give my prehospital report.  When the RN answered the phone, I began my report with, "I have four kids in the back of my ambulance, and they're sitting right here so I'm going to give you a VERY abbreviated report.  I'll have to fill you in on the details when I get there."

I left out everything except the fact that the kids appear to be fine, and they needed medical clearance per the sheriff's department.

By the time we arrived at the hospital, I had gotten pretty comfortable with the fact that the kids were handling everything quite well, and found myself actually looking forward to seeing the look on the triage nurse's face when I gave my report.  I wasn't disappointed.  At all.

My partner had taken all four kids into an examination room and was giving out their demographic information to the registration person.  As I told their story, the nurse became more and more horrified.  I noticed how quiet the bullpen area had become as others began listening to the story as well.  

Around the time I was finished, another deputy walked into the emergency department to follow up.  I stood by as he told the nurse  that a detective had made contact with the children's mother, and he had pieced together what they think happened:

Mom, it seems, had a boyfriend who wasn't fond of the fact that his girlfriend had four children by someone other than himself.  He was frequently upset about that, and even more upset that she didn't want to have more children with him.  She thought four were enough, and they couldn't afford more.  It was a source of a lot of tension and arguments between them.

Based upon that statement, the detective had developed a working theory that he had arranged for a friend of his to kill her children, but the friend must have either changed his mind, or gotten nervous, or just couldn't bring himself to do the deed.  So instead of killing the kids, he tried to get them to kill themselves by jumping off the freeway.  The freeway was far too busy a place for him to hang around, so he fled before the kids could do anything.  And at one in the morning, four children aren't going to be on the side of a busy highway blindfolded for very long before the first car stops to find out what's going on.

The deputy said they're bringing the mother to the hospital, and they're looking for the boyfriend.  He explained that it appears the mother had no involvement, but they weren't going to leave the kids with here until they finished looking deeper into the case.

I waved to my partner, and the kids waved back.  We walked out to the ambulance, and it was quite a while before either of us said a word.

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