“Help me, I’m cold.”
Those were the words that Traci Gilbert heard about 2:15 a.m. Sunday morning when she opened her door to find a 3-year-old covered in snow and sleet.
Minutes earlier, the toddler had been inside a white Chrysler New Yorker sedan driven by his father that had been left running outside of a 7-Eleven convenience store at 331 S. Hancock St. When his father Anthony Pettiford left the car, someone jumped inside and drove off with the boy inside, Colorado Springs Police say.
Gilbert said the car thief left the boy in the cold about four blocks away — outside her home. The thief gave the boy a plastic bag that held a container of soy milk, a sippy cup, two diapers, wipes and pajama bottoms.
Through snow and sleet, the boy carried the bag up the 14 slick steps to Gilbert’s second-story duplex apartment, knocked on the door and rang the bell. The sound of the bell woke Gilbert up and, at that time of night, put her on edge.
She didn’t see anyone when she looked out her peephole. Then she heard another knock. She opened the door and was shocked to look down and discover a 3-year-old on her doorstep asking for help.
“He wasn’t crying. He never shed a single tear the whole time,” Gilbert said. The boy was covered in snow, but wasn’t injured or overly cold. She figured that he couldn’t have been outside long. He said he wanted his daddy and kept saying that “he told me I had to leave.”
At first, Gilbert was afraid that maybe his father had put him out in the cold or he had run away from home. But the boy seemed well-cared for and talkative.
The toddler told her his name, but she said she couldn’t understand what he said. Police have not released his name.
Gilbert’s adult son, who lives with her, took the boy in his car to find his home. Gilbert said the boy pointed to a house a few blocks away, but the lights were off inside. Moments later, Gilbert’s son waved down a police officer searching for the boy. The officer told her son what had happened and then took the boy back to his father.
Police are still searching for the car thief. Anyone who sees the vehicle – a 1995 white Chrysler New Yorker with the license plate 083-VGE is asked to call police at 444-7000.
Gilbert is livid about what the thief did.
“I’m sure the guy didn’t mean to take the kid, but no matter, he put a 3-year-old in the snow,” she said. “He completely abandoned him in the snow.”
She is more understanding of the father, who left the boy in the vehicle, even though it is illegal to leave a child unattended in a running vehicle.
“I’m slow to blame the parents,” she said. “This is speculation, but it was cold outside. He probably didn’t want to wake him up and didn’t want to leave his son in a cold car… The parents didn’t make good choices, but we can all make stupid choices at some time or another.”
Gilbert said she’s glad she answered the late-night knock at her door. And she’s glad the toddler was brave enough to climb up her stairs and ask for help.
“A little boy sitting there crying outside would have made more sense than him doing what he did,” she said. “I just think the baby is a hero for being able to get help and stay calm.”
Contact Maria St. Louis-Sanchez: 636-0274
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