Just another Friday

Tim Watson’s Friday began like any other. When you drive a bus, you follow your assigned daily routes. Before long, the days begin to feel routine. As passengers filed into the bus, nothing seemed amiss.

Tim Watson, local hero, bus driver
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It had been eight months since Watson started his job at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. In the short time he’d worked there he felt he’d seen it all — crowded buses don’t tend to bring out the best in people, but most are friendly enough. But he noticed something odd about one little boy entering the bus today.

It was a commuter bus

This particular route took Tim and his passengers from Great Mall in Milpitas, California to work and school. Most riders were regulars — people Tim had seen many times. However, it wasn’t uncommon to see new faces sometimes either.

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When people that normally drive have car trouble, usually they’ll end up using public transportation to get to their destination. That’s why Tim Watson didn’t think much of it when one passenger asked him what time the bus left. But this passenger turned out to be someone he’d watch closely.

A little odd, but not suspicious…yet

The man who asked about the departure time flashed a transit card for disabled people, which gave him a two dollar discount. While the man didn’t look disabled, Watson knew better than to judge based on looks.

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Image by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

He let the man and boy on the bus without incident. The young boy and his 20-something-year-old guardian filed toward the back of the bus and took their seats. So far, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But Tim Watson couldn’t shake a sense of foreboding.

The boy burst into tears

Almost immediately after the pair were seated, the little boy started crying. Watson took notice and his suspicion grew. Still, this wasn’t all too uncommon on the bus. Children are prone to tantrums, especially when stuffed into an unfamiliar environment surrounded by strangers.

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Image by Christiane Hübscher/picture alliance via Getty Images

Watson resolved to keep his suspicions to himself, but the thought kept creeping into his head. What if he was wrong about these passengers? But then again, what if he was right to be concerned?

Glancing in the rear-view mirror

Tim Watson kept finding his eyes drifting toward the pair. Something just seemed off. The way the boy was crying didn’t seem natural, and he wasn’t responding to the man telling him to quiet down and go to sleep.

glancing in rear view, suspicious activity
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There still wasn’t anything that confirmed Tim’s suspicions that something was dangerously wrong, but he now made up his mind to keep a watchful eye on the situation. If the time came to act, Watson would prepare himself.

An urgent message

Often, bus drivers will receive messages from transit agency’s operation center while they drive along their routes. Usually drivers will wait until they make a stop to check. But this message was urgent, so Watson decided to check it immediately.

Tim Watson interview, saved a child
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Watson was glad he did — the message was serious. There had been a child abduction committed at the Milpitas Public Library less than an hour ago. Authorities wanted help finding the three-year-old child.

Tim Watson’s mind started racing

He thought of the young child crying in the back seat. There were only a total of six passengers on the bus, but he was too far away to get a good look. In order to know for sure he’d have to get closer.

Tim Watson, bus driver, saving a child
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Tim Watson is a father himself and his instincts were setting off alarms in his mind. But what could he do? Alerting the possible kidnapper of his suspicions could cause a disaster — and what if he was wrong? For now, he had no choice but to continue on the route.

He tried to form a plan

Watson’s mind flashed to his own two children and what the parents of a kidnapped child must be going through. It must have been terrifying. He craned his neck to see the young boy but it wasn’t working.

bus travel, made a decision, had to act
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He didn’t want to disturb the other passengers or alert the possible kidnapper. He felt helpless in the moment, but before long he had an idea.

Description

The message described both the victim and the suspect. The suspect was described as an “African-American man approximately 25 years old and wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and jeans.” The boy was wearing red shoes and plaid shorts, but he could only see the top half of the child from his vantage point.

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Tim Watson’s stomach sank as he connected the description to the man on the bus. He was almost sure now, but he still needed a closer look to confirm. As he glanced back he noticed the man seemed nervous, eager to reach his destination.

He had to be sneaky

If the man caught the slightest hint of suspicion, he could hop out at any moment. Worse, he could lash out violently. So far, none of the other passengers seemed the wiser. Watson resolved to keep it that way.

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Image by ABC News

It was now time for the bus driver to execute his plan. It was a risky move, but if he didn’t act fast he may never get the opportunity. He took the next freeway exit.

Time to act

Tim Watson brought his bus to a halt in the nearest McDonald’s parking lot. He told passengers that someone had called in wondering if they had left their bag on the bus. Watson asked the passengers for help looking for the bag.

McDonald's parking lot, clever ruse, searching for a bag
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Since the bus was nearly empty, no one thought it was strange that Watson would leave the driver’s seat to join the search himself. The excuse gave Tim ample time to look over the potential suspect and victim and a plausible reason to speak to everyone.

The kidnapper and his victim

When Tim reached the back of the bus, he was sure to take a long hard look at the man without raising suspicions. He asked if the man had seen the imaginary missing bag. Of course, the man hadn’t.

searching the bus, ruse to look at suspect
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Watson also made sure he scanned the boy with his eyes as well. He remembered the description of the child’s clothing. “Sure enough I see the plaid shorts and red shoes. That’s what really stuck out in my mind,” Watson told CBSN.

Alerting the authorities

Tim Watson’s ruse also gave him an excuse to make a quick call. No one would think anything of him calling the customer back to tell him or her their bag was still missing. Of course, Watson had to keep his voice low as he called the dispatcher.

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The rumble of the bus’s engine drowned out his voice as he told them he was certain he had the kidnapper and victim aboard his bus. No one on the bus took any notice.

The dispatcher gave instructions

Responding to the call, the dispatcher told Watson to continue the route and not to raise suspicions. He was to drive slowly to allow the authorities to catch up. When the bus reached their next stop, there would be a surprise waiting for them.

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The next few minutes must have felt like hours. Tim Watson forced himself to act like nothing was wrong, nervous to make eye contact with the suspect and tip him off. The man was likely to make an escape attempt at the slightest suspicion.

Police were close behind

Fortunately, the bus had no windows in the back. Through the rear-view mirrors, Watson noticed they had company. Police were lurking not far behind. They were careful not to turn on their sirens, but their lights alerted other drivers to steer clear.

cop car, police car, police pursuit

Tim Watson now knew it was just a matter of time. His heart must have been pounding as he neared the next bus stop. When he finally arrived at the stop and hit the breaks, he noticed several police officers creeping up alongside the bus.

The doors opened

Tim Watson hit the buttons and opened both the front and back doors of the bus, allowing the passengers to file out. The kidnapper and the child hopped out door number two, completely unsuspecting. At this moment police pounced.

arrest, got the suspect, saved child
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“The gentleman walks out calm, cool, collected as can be and they take him down on the spot,” Watson told CBSN. The police could not have hoped for a better outcome. In an instant, the suspect was on the ground. Officers said they had to pry the little boy from the kidnapper’s hands. Luckily, the child was uninjured.

Parents and the child were overcome with emotion

When the parents were reunited with their kidnapped child at the police station all their fears and doubts were swept away. The family’s relief and joy was incredible. Police had informed the parents of the bus driver’s suspicions and the actions they were taking.

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When they were informed that the undertaking had been successful the parents were overjoyed. They were too emotional to speak with news reporters but eternally grateful to Tim Watson for saving their child.

The local hero is honored for his bravery and intuition

Directly after the incident, Watson became emotional when thinking about his own children. “That’s when my own kids came to mind and I just broke down,” Watson told CBSN. “I couldn’t hold myself down. I just wanted to go inside the bus and reflect.”

Tim Watson, local hero, saved a child, relaxed
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The police chief and the community applauded Watson for his quick thinking and action. If he hadn’t been paying such close attention. “The bus driver is a hero,” said the police chief. “An absolute hero.”

The suspect 

The man arrested in connection with the crime was Alfonso David Edington, the 23-year-old man Police say snatched the young boy from the Library. The boy’s mother told police she turned her back for just a few seconds. When she turned back, her child was missing.

suspect, facing prison term, abducted child
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Witnesses say they saw the young man who appeared to be homeless leading the child away from the library. If convicted of felony kidnapping, Edington faces up to 11 years in prison. His court-appointed attorney stated that he is schizophrenic and had not been taking his medication, and that Edington had no intention of hurting the child.

How was Tim Watson so prepared?

While bus drivers receive extensive training on how to spot the signs of human traffickers and child abductors, Watson credits his fast action to a different kind of experience — that of being a father.

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He believes his paternal instincts are to credit for noticing something was wrong. Tim Watson knew something wasn’t right the moment the child set foot on his bus. He’s just happy he decided to listen to the voice inside his head that warned him of the danger. “Even though we had all this training, the father instinct kicked in,” he told Milpitas Independent Journal.

Fight child abduction at home

If you’re a parent, nothing is more frightening than the thought of your child being abducted by someone intent on doing them harm. One of the most important tools you have to fight child abduction is preparing your child for the worst.

Missing children, preventative action
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No one wants to have this conversation with their kids, but parents are encouraged to warn their children about the potential threat. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that 83% of children that escape their abductors are proactive. This means teaching them to travel in a group, to show them places they can go to escape and get help, and to warn them against accepting rides from strangers could save their lives.

Child abduction is all too common

Sadly, incidents like this one happen in every corner of the world, and often with tragic results. Approximately 1,435 kidnappings happen each year. Disturbingly, most of these horrific crimes are committed by family members of the victim.

kidnapped child, made it home, returned home
Elizabeth Smart. (Image by Lois Smart via Getty Images)

Only 205 of the 1,435 abductions are committed by strangers. In 90% of these cases, the child is returned home safely. Fortunately, kidnapping appears to be on the decline as a result of cell phone technology. While this does little to curb toddler abduction, it has had a drastic impact on decreasing the amount of kidnappings of children between 12 and 17-years-old (the most commonly targeted age). What more can we do to prevent these crimes?

You could be the next hero

If you’re ever alerted to a possible abduction, make sure you know what to do to be as helpful as possible in returning the child home safely. Firstly, take special note of the description given of the child. It’s important to note the clothing. However, keep in mind that clever predators come prepared.

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It’s not uncommon for abductors to carry a change of children’s clothes with them. Police advise good Samaritans to pay special attention to the shoes the child is wearing. Many abductors may slip a sweater over the child or change their shirt, but few will take the time to change their shoes. Fortunately, Tim Watson noticed the little boys red Crocs and took action. Otherwise, the unthinkable could have happened.

Amber alert

You’ve probably heard of an amber alert, and may even have had one broadcast a message to your phone. An amber alert is an emergency broadcast that sends out information and descriptions regarding a missing child to people in the nearby area.

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Image by AMBER Alert Europe/Wikimedia

The word AMBER is actually an acronym — it stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, though the acronym was thought of after the name given. The Amber Alert was named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas. It’s important to pay special attention when you receive one of these messages — it could make the difference between life and death for an abducted child.

Rescued children

The efforts appear to be paying off. As a result of the amber alert system, 941 missing children were safely recovered as of January 2019. In the previous year, The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention granted $42 million to support efforts to recover missing children, provide training and technological resources, and prevent abduction and exploitation.

reunited family, saved child, success story
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We may never fully wipe out the scourge of child abduction and exploitation, but increased awareness and vigilance in conjunction with effective enforcement tactics clearly has had a positive impact — saving many children’s lives.