Hot cars in the summer: a mother’s story
Mother tells her story of the steps that can lead to accidentally leaving a baby in a car.
Editor’s note: Each summer, Stephanie Gray’s honest story touches thousands of parents. She and her husband Aaron hope that sharing the story of their loss will be a reminder to you this summer. Please look before you lock. If you chose to comment, please be kind and respectful.
I learned on August 7, 2012, that ANY parent can accidentally leave a child in a car. That day, a Tuesday, began with my husband Aaron leaving for work while I finished feeding our sweet 5-month-old son, Joel, his morning bottle.
The morning was more hectic than usual. My older sons had just started a new school year and were still trying to get into the swing of things. Baby Joel was going to his second day of day care. To make things more confusing, my kitchen was under major construction, it had been gutted, and most of my kitchen items were stacked all around my living room.
I took my two middle boys to school first. It was about 7:50 a.m. They attended an elementary school about a mile from my house, next door to the church where Joel attended day care. After I dropped them off, I went back home to my oldest son, who was waiting there with baby Joel. It was 8:00, and he and Joel did not begin school until 9:00.
I fed Joel some cereal and after he ate, he was very sleepy and fussy. He usually went down for his morning nap by 8:30, but with the new routine he would be in the car at that time. I loaded Joel in the back seat of my minivan, put his diaper bag in the floor board under his seat, and pulled the sun shade down to keep the bright August sun out of his little eyes. My oldest son got in the back seat with Joel, and we began the approximate two-mile journey to the middle school.
Joel was fussy, so my son did what we always told him to do. He put Joel’s pacifier in his mouth, and Joel was instantly quiet. The drop-off line at the middle school took quite a bit longer than usual because it was a new school year, and many first-time parents were trying to maneuver the system. By the time I dropped my older son off, it was close to 9:00. I drove back toward my street and breathed a sigh of relief because for the first time in months I could work from home without having to juggle my four boys at the same time.
As I mentioned, this was the first full day of school for the older boys, and only the second day of day care for Joel. That coupled with my focus on my law practice made my routine completely new and different. I placed Joel’s diaper bag in the floorboard of the back seat and therefore I didn’t see it when I returned home. There was no reason for me to look in the back seat because I had dropped everyone off and I had no reminders to do so.
I worked steadily all day getting my law practice in order. It was 2:27 when I looked at the clock and realized I would be late picking up Joel at 2:30. When I arrived at the day care and went to the door, Joel’s teacher was at the entrance with another teacher and a couple of parents were exiting the building with their children.
I looked at her and said, “I am so sorry.” I realized Joel was not with her and asked her where he was.
She looked at me puzzled and said “He isn’t here – you didn’t drop him off this morning.”
I was so utterly confused that I responded, “Well where is he?”
It is very difficult to put into words the feelings within my body at this very moment. I remember my thoughts kind of swirling in a frenzy in my brain and thinking, “My God! Where is my baby, he has not been with me all day, and he isn’t at home?”
This thought process lasted maybe a second but it seemed at that moment that time stood still. I was frozen with fear. Then it hit me “the car!” and I ran to my minivan and pulled open the door where Joel’s car seat sat.
The first thing I remember thinking when I saw my sweet, helpless baby boy was “heat.” I will never forget the horrible image of my once chubby, healthy son as he lay lifeless in his car seat. I immediately pulled him from his seat, began screaming to the day care employees to call 911 as I ran him into the building and placed him in a sink. I frantically splashed water on him and tried to rip his romper off of him. Then a day care worker told me to lay him on one of the sleep mats so that she could administer CPR.
The scene that day only got worse as I called my husband in an hysterical panic to tell him what had happened, the firefighters rushed in only to tell me that my baby boy was gone, the police came to investigate, and the camera crews set up to get the breaking news of the attorney who left her baby in a hot car all day. I was confined to the back of an ambulance and my husband was being held in the parking lot away from me. We were both in shock and devastated beyond belief.
It has been 10 months since my sweet baby died and there are not many seconds that pass when I don’t think about him. I would do anything to have my baby back, but nothing can make that happen. Instead, my husband and I want to work tirelessly to prevent other parents from experiencing this pain. Please be aware of the dangers and tell everyone you know.
Written by Stephanie Gray, this story originally published on June 12, 2013.
Please read these hot vehicle safety tips from Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.