A bus driver was left dumbfounded as the doors opened and a 4-year-old little girl boarded his bus all by herself. Concerned, he talked to the child, who quickly told him what she needed most.
Harlan Jenifer, a driver for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia, stopped his bus at 3 am to let a passenger off. After the doors opened, a 4-year-old little girl in a purple raincoat and boots clambered aboard all alone. Surveillance video captured the unusual sight as she found a seat on the warm bus, then sat, swinging her tiny feet beneath her as if she didn’t have a care in the world.
“Got to be kidding me! At this time, at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Harlan said, recounting the incident in disbelief. “She’s a small little thing. It kind of just shocked me,” he added. Apparently, little girl, who he learned was named Annabelle, was thirsty. As Harlan called the police and other passengers comforted her, she repeated the same request over and over and over again.
“All I want is a Slushie, that’s all she said!” Harlan said Annabelle told everyone on the bus repeatedly. And, she was determined. After putting her raincoat and boots on over her pajamas, Annabelle slipped out the back door of her family’s home and wandered five blocks in the rain before boarding the bus, hoping to be dropped off at a convenience store where she could grab a Slushie.
“Where’s her mom?” Harlan said he wondered. “I’m like, ‘Oh, God, what’s going on here?’ It was shocking, more or less. She was drenching wet. She was trembling,” he added but said he found humor in the strange incident afterward. “It was too funny,” Harlan said later. “I was scared for her, but it was funny. She was in good hands.”
Thankfully, the 52-year-old bus driver and father-of-three stumbled upon Annabelle and called the police before any harm could come to her. Working the night shift, Harlan said he sees plenty of “weirdos” on his route, so he’s grateful Annabelle crossed his path and not someone else’s. Harlan, who’s since been hailed a hero, halted his route for over 20 minutes until police arrived, as those on the bus made small talk with the child.
“She was in good spirits,” Harlan said. “It was like she knew where she was going.” And, perhaps she did since a 7-11, open 24 hours a day, was just three blocks up the road. Unfortunately for Annabelle, that wasn’t where she was going to end up. Instead, the police arrived and took her to St. Christopher’s Hospital, where she was reunited with her mother, Jaclyn Mager.
After inspecting the home, police said no charges would be filed against the girl’s parents. Officers determined that Annabell had gotten up, hours after being in bed, as her mother slept. She reportedly tried the front door first, which was locked. But, undeterred, she headed to the back door and was able to slip out without waking her mother.
Although this was Annabelle’s first solo outing, her parents are determined to make sure it’s her last and have since reconfigured their door locks. As they told the local news about the incident during an interview, Annabelle interrupted, “Mom, can you take me to Wawa and get me a slushie?” Jaclyn agreed but made her daughter promise to wait for her this time.
Although the family can now laugh about the incident, Annabelle’s father, Timothy Ridgeway, admitted that it’s easy to imagine how differently things could have turned out. “My mind is wanting to go places, it’s hard not to,” the concerned dad said. “Thank God for the bus driver,” he added as Jaclyn shared similar sentiments. “There are no words, he saved my daughter’s life,” she said. “I’ll be forever grateful.”
While many might want to fault Annabelle’s parents, they have actually done a great job raising their daughter. Obviously, she’s independent. She’s able to dress herself, choosing appropriate attire for the weather, and can even find the bus stop. She’s actually quite the impressive 4-year-old and will undoubtedly become a successful young woman. But, Annabelle’s adventure does provide an important reminder.
Children are determined, clever, and strongwilled. When they want something, they aren’t easily deterred from their mission. They are often valiant, fearing nothing in a world that can be quite scary. And, when you least expect it, they will surprise you, pulling off an accomplishment you never thought they could. In most cases, that can be a great thing. In others, it’s dangerous.
As our children grow and learn, we mustn’t forget to reevaluate our home’s childproofing. If it’s inadequate, it’s better to realize it before we’re awakened by a knock at the door from the police, who found our little one before we even realized they were missing. Don’t think your child won’t or cannot. As too many of us have found out the hard way, they can and they will. Just ask little Annabelle.
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Author: Christy Pepple
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