Man Kidnaps Child Left in Car to “Teach Dad a Lesson”

Ah, readers, here’s a wild story of  a busybody gone batty: Seeing a toddler left alone in a running car, some nut stole the car AND baby because he was “upset” with the dad for leaving the kid alone.

But as the reader who sent this story to me, Michele, dryly noted: “It seems to me that the only person the child was in danger from was the guy who took him as a ‘lesson.'”

The story is here. And while I don’t like the idea of a car with keys AND a kid in it, the dad most certainly did not deserve this kind of fright. Any onlooker who was  truly concerned could wait till the parent came out and have a friendly chat. Generally speaking, chats beat kidnappings. – L

Child driving a toy car by State Library of Queensland, Australia

Samaritan Tip #27: Helpful onlookers do NOT abduct children.


39 Responses to Man Kidnaps Child Left in Car to “Teach Dad a Lesson”

  1. Andy December 10, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    “Mills has now been charged with second-degree kidnapping, second-degree larceny, risk of injury to a minor and operating under suspension.”

    Seems like cops plan to teach him a lesson about teaching others a lesson.

  2. Katharine McKinney December 10, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    So J. Walter Weatherman of him. “And that’s why….you don’t teach lessons.” (Arrested Development)

  3. Bose in St. Peter MN December 10, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    It’s also being alleged that the kidnapper was high on PCP when he stole the dad’s Cadillac, and that he was charged with driving on a suspended license, leaving the possibility open that “teaching the dad a lesson” was more a creative alibi after the fact than the trigger.

  4. Bernadette Noll December 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    The dark scary thoughts were coming only from inside this man’s brain!!! Not from what was actually happening but from fears inside his head.

  5. Lollipoplover December 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    He had a suspended license!
    Maybe he could be a lesson to the community by NOT DRIVING in the first place.
    He should be taught a lesson and sent to driving school after jail.
    1 .Drive with a legal license
    2. Don’t drive cars that don’t belong to you.
    3. Especially ones that contain children.

  6. Toby Farley December 10, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    This happened to me when I was small. My mom left me in the car to run a quick errand. It was a different era and leaving a child in a car for a short period of time was most likely not a big thing. I was crying so a woman picked me and took me into the store and was walking around the store with me. My mom ran across this woman with her child and to put it mildly, was not at all happy.

  7. Cassie December 10, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    I leave my kids in a running car all the time (it is hot in Australia and the aircon needs to stay on)…. but I am always within eye shot.

    I have heard of thieves stealing cars with kids in it… accidently, and the outcome is always the same… The poor theif (yes I feel sorry for them) looks in the back seat and realises they did more then just steal a car…. they park the car at the nearest service station (often informing the attendants) and then bolt.

    The law is generally lenient.

    Maybe it is just a bunch of urban myths, but I have always believed that if a carjacker stole a car and then saw that their were kids in the back seat… well that he would do the right thing. Call me crazy.

  8. Hels December 10, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    I hope now he gets a really good lesson himself about proper behavior! And yes, I think it is more of a “creative excuse”. Pardon me for being cynical, but as a pharmacist, I have heard so many creative explanations for why someone absolutely needs their (insert drug of high abuse potential here) a week/two weeks early…

  9. Emily December 10, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    One time in high school, a guy friend of mine from the band hid my backpack in his locker, to “teach me a lesson” about not leaving it unattended in the music room or in the hallway (right by my locker, after hours, when nobody but the “extracurricular crowd” was there anyway, and that particular day, I think it was just our group of music friends staying through from after school until band practice in the evening), but there’s a big difference here. In my case, it was a backpack, NOT a car with a child in it, and my friend returned it to me about five minutes later, after I found it “missing.” I don’t remember if it “worked,” but my point is, there was much less malice involved in my friend’s “backpackjacking” than in the carjacking incident in this story.

  10. Chihiro December 10, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    I’m a little concerned that the dad left the keys in and engine running with a two-year-old in the car, not so much because kidnappers, but because…well, kids get curious. I do question his judgment there.

  11. Uly December 10, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    I have heard of thieves stealing cars with kids in it… accidently, and the outcome is always the same… The poor theif (yes I feel sorry for them) looks in the back seat and realises they did more then just steal a car…. they park the car at the nearest service station (often informing the attendants) and then bolt.

    I read one once where the teens who stole the car panicked and took the kid back home to play video games while they panicked some more. It took them a few hours to smarten up and return her.

    But yeah, most car thieves don’t want to add a charge of child murder to the list. Forget morals (though I suspect most of them have enough of those to avoid harming little kids for the lulz anyway, it doesn’t take many morals to do that!), it’s just very unpragmatic to turn one crime into a much more severe one.

  12. Teresa December 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    I had a cousin who once left her very small children in her running car while she was at the cemetary. She got out to leave flowers on a family member’s grave. Within just a few minutes, the curious little ones had gotten in the front seat and managed to shift the car out of park. The car rolled down the hill and damaged a few headstones before it stopped. It was like something out of a bad comedy! Luckily, no one was hurt!

  13. SKL December 10, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    Yeah, nice try, buddy. That was about the craziest excuse I’ve ever heard. I’m thinking this was thrill seeking gone wrong.

    I too would not leave my kids outside a store in a running car. But I have done it in my own driveway, with my kids ordered (on pain of . . . pain) to remain buckled in the backseat. I dare one of my neighbors to try to “teach me a lesson.” Ha.

  14. Jessika December 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    Thank goodness that they’re charging the man that took the child. Lesson or not. Hopefully they slam him hard.

  15. Donna December 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    “Forget morals (though I suspect most of them have enough of those to avoid harming little kids for the lulz anyway, it doesn’t take many morals to do that!), it’s just very unpragmatic to turn one crime into a much more severe one.”

    Since 99.99999999999999999999% of my clients don’t have a pragmatic bone in their bodies, it is more of a moral choice.

  16. backroadsem December 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    I’m hoping no one winds up being on the crazy kidnapper’s side…

  17. RobC December 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    If child abductions are really as incredibly common as people seem to believe, you’d think all the guy would have had to do was wait for one of those predators who are apparently ‘everywhere’ to come along and kidnap the kid himself.

  18. mollie December 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    Nothing says “caring, safety and community” like second-degree larceny and kidnapping.

  19. CrazyCatLady December 10, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    Umm, yeah. I don’t believe his story. He took the car because it was running, then noticed the kid and dropped the kid with someone else. Then he realized that he was in deep doo-doo so he took the car back.

    He could have just talked to the dad. Or, if he really wanted to teach a lesson he would have called the police. That is what 99% of the busy bodies would do. But then there is the 1%….we had one near me that convinced the kids to get out of the car and go with him into the Walmart – he was charged with impersonating a fire officer, public drunkenness, and something along the lines of taking kids without consent.

    I suspect the kid was asleep during the initial moments of this, which is why the dad left him in the car with it running.

  20. Puzzled December 10, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    I live in Connecticut. I was watching tv with a group of students when a “child abduction notice” came on the screen. It announced that there had been a problem 20 minutes earlier, but it was now resolved, since it takes 20 minutes or so to get the notice prepared. I wondered why they couldn’t just, you know, not run the notice, if they could modify it to say that there was no problem.

    Also, there are currently 2 comments on the article. Both seem to disagree with the kidnapper, but both think he had a good point. Sigh.

  21. bmommyx2 December 10, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    Honestly I think he was an oportunistic car theif with a creative excuse when he got caught because he didn’t realize the child was there. It’s ironic that you posted this today. Last week I was getting gas & I left my little kids in the car. The car was locked, I had the keys, they were buckled into their car seats, the windows were cracked & it was not hot. Both kids started out asleep but the baby woke up while I Was inside paying. I settled him back down or so I though, up until he fell asleep he had been very fussy & was screaming in the car. I went inside quickly to get my change & since there was a line I went to wash my hands while I was waiting. As I came out of the bathroom the attendent told me the kids were crying. I went out to tend to my son & calm him & a woman came up to me. She asked me if it was my car / kids? Then she asked if it was a good idea to leave them in there? I explained that the baby had been fussy & would be upset even if I was with him, but I’m sorry I didn’t just say thank you & ignore her. Concidering the circumstance I think it was safer for them in the car then walking around a very busy gas station / car wash. Maybe I should have held the baby on my hip while I pumped gas & has the other one stand next to me so they could both breath the fumes. I do think it was a mistake of the dad to leave the car running with the keys in, but we don’t know the circumstance so I will refrain from judgement.

  22. Donald December 10, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    It sounds to me like he took the car and then he found out there was a child in it.

    When he said that he wanted to teach the father a lesson, I think that he fabricated that story and thought it would help his case.

    He talked without thinking and dug himself a much deeper hole. Some people are their own worst enemy.

  23. hineata December 11, 2012 at 12:28 am #

    @Donna – how many of your clients are actually fairly bright? Am just asking because I am having a really crappy week at work and becoming convinced that I am dealing with the future criminal element – though these are not actually stupid kids…..just completely lacking in moral fibre (or so it feels this week, LOL! Hopefully the holidays will reset their buttons!).

    On a completely unrelated note, how are you going sorting accommodation? It occured to me that you could borrow the house while we’re away – it’s very ordinary but it has a shower, loo, beds and a kitchen! Could leave the keys with Catspaw. We’re only half a k or so from the Hutt Motor Camp, so roughly the same distance into Wellington for sightseeing. Anyway let me know sometime…..

  24. Donna December 11, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    Hineata – Honestly, the majority of my clients are dumber than dirt (at least in the states; Am. Samoa is a different animal). However, some are very bright. There are the group that had decent lives and blew them by getting into drugs or doing something stupid. I have the least patience for them. Then there are the others who have achieved nothing except trouble for most of their lives, but you can tell, with a different life outside the hood or trailer park and with parents who weren’t criminals or addicts, could have been great. They make me the saddest.

    Thank you very much for the offer. I totally would have taken you up on that but I just – yesterday afternoon – booked accommodation in Wellington that I can’t get out of. Where are you camping? Who knows we may be in the area since, other than a few things, we have no set-in-stone plans for the trip.

  25. hineata December 11, 2012 at 3:05 am #

    Your second group sound like half my current crop of students! Sad….still, am probably just in a negative mood, so looking forward to holidays (as are the kids, I’m sure!).

    We’re heading up to Ohope, which is about 30 km south-eastish of Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty (basically just following the coast. Off the beaten track possiby for you guys, but not that far out from Rotorua, which of course is one of the usual tourist meccas. Maybe a couple of hours?

    Though did I mention before that a lot of our roads would seem very narrow etc to you all, and very windy as it’s a hilly country, so just take care :-). State Highway One, our main road for the country, is two lane (as in one lane goes one way, one goes the other – is that the definiton of two lane? Never could quite get that :-) ). Passing lanes here and there.

    Maybe we can pass on the way up or back the island. We head for Auckland on the 2nd, so will be travelling up the middle of the island, maybe you two will be somewhere in that region? Hope you have a wonderful time anyway, particularly in the South – the West Coast is just wonderful, IMHO….

  26. Per December 11, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    I haven’t found any statistics, but I have a feeling that here in Europe, accidental kidnappings are more common than actual kidnappings by a stranger. Someone is out to steal a car, doesn’t notice the child, and drives away. The “teaching a lesson” excuse is obviouly something this guy made up after he was arrested.

    So, yes, don’t leave your kids in the car with the engine running and keys in it. That’s not free-range. That’s stupid.

  27. Donna December 11, 2012 at 3:41 am #

    Well since I am likely to be wandering over to the wrong side of the road at any given moment, this should be quite an adventure. I am looking forward to actually topping 25mph/40 kmp for the first time in a year. Who needs bundgy jumping for an adrenalin rush.

    We leave Wellington on the 1st and will probably head up the middle of the island stopping here or there until we hit Auckland sometime before the 7th. After a year on a very small island with nothing to do except go to the beach, your mountains (me), playgrounds (Maya) and cities (both) are more appealing than your beaches (although I’m sure they’re great) so we’ll likely stick to the middle of the north island.

    Since everyone else is probably tired of my travel plans, my email is I know yours is in some thread. Now to remember which one.

  28. dancing on thin ice December 11, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    I live in Connecticut, and those that knew him said he needs drug help, thus putting in question the teach a lesson claim.

    But this only shows that leaving kids in a car IS safe since even high on PCP a thief would either quickly abandon a vehicle or leave a child with a responsible person.

    The messages in amber / silver alerts on the radio are very hard to understand between poor audio quality and the tendency to ignore them as another weekly test.

  29. Captain America December 11, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Damn! I want to go to New Zealand, and have ever since I read a 1913 book by the early tennis pro Tony Wilding, who so neatly described his native countryside.

    At any rate, I file this story under the “It takes all kinds” category.

  30. Julie December 11, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Here in Alberta, Canada I seem to read at least one accidental kidnapping story every year. It is so cold in the winter that parents will simply leave the car running with the baby sleeping inside while they run in to pick up the toddler from preschool or whatever. Someone sees the vehicle running, hops in for a joyride and then discovers the sleeping child. The last 3 stories I read like that they noticed the child and then left the vehicle shortly thereafter. One even made an anonymous 911 call telling the police where they could find the child. Another was a teenager who was later turned in by his own parents. None of them intended to or wanted to be involved with kidnapping and their actions showed it.

    I have left my baby sleeping in the car, however, I feel that if it is too cold to turn the vehicle off, it is too cold to leave the child in the car, regardless of the inconvenience of waking him up. It is irritating but even when picking up the preschooler there is a jr. high just down the road and I think a running vehicle might simply prove too tempting to a 14 year old with a learner’s permit (especially on a freezing cold day).

  31. Neil M December 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    It seems to me the real lesson here is not to take other people’s cars containing other people’s children.

    Besides, if this nut was so all-fired concerned about this kid, the non-crazy thing to do was to watch the car and ensure that no one came along and did exactly what this nut wound up doing. Criminy.

  32. Yoga Mom December 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    I don’t buy the story. I think Devon Mills saw an easy target for a car theft, then found the child & realized he was over his head and just made up this whole “lesson” story. I imagine he will be found guily as charged.

  33. catspaw73 December 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm #


    Hopefully he made it up, and glad to see hes being charged, not the Dad.

    @Captain America, yep New Zealand is a pretty neat place (just watch LOTR or the Hobbit, we don’t need CGI for spectacular scenery) :-)

    @Donna, yeah, parts of state highway 1 cannot be used in FIA/WRC sanctioned rally events as they are too dangerous….. Or as Marcus Gronholm once commented, having driven the length of the South Island after a WRC event, he can see why we have so many good rally drivers :-) Will fire you an e-mail, we look like we’ll be around late December if you want to catch up when in Wellington.

  34. Barb December 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    When my kids were small I could of left my 2 year old daughter in a running for hours (not that I would) and she would be sitting there playing in her car seat or looking at a picture book or whatever when I got back, now my son on the other hand still at 2 would have escaped the car seat climbed into the front seat and tried to go for a drive. So it just depends on the kid as to whether they can be left in a running car or not so I don’t think the Dad did anything wrong and it does seem like a convenient excuse for the thief so I hope they throw the book at him.

  35. Reader December 11, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    The reason for not leaving kids AND keys in the car, to me, is more that someone might steal the car and take the kids along.

  36. LRH December 11, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    Besides the obvious ridiculousness of someone stealing a car to teach someone a lesson–maybe they should rob the house of someone who doesn’t lock their doors to “teach them a lesson” about leaving doors unlocked–frankly, I don’t see it as stupid or reckless per se to leave a car running with the child in it.

    For one, if it’s cold or hot, you’re protecting your child from extreme weather. This especially applies if the child is sleeping & waking the child would make them cranky & expose the parent to noise that, for some, can be borderline unbearable. For another, maybe the car is difficult to start–the person had to get a jump-start. I have actually been known to leave a car running while getting gasoline, even though I’m told that’s risky, at times past when I was driving a car that was hard to start & I didn’t want to chance being stranded. Also, some people–I’ve seen this in fact–have a spare key & lock the car while it’s left running.

    Also, while I realize we don’t live in a vacuum, I think making the parent responsible in this way means you’re failing to put the blame where it actually belongs, on the thief. Again, I know we don’t live in a vacuum or a perfect world, but I should be able to leave my car running even if I own a BMW & it’s parked in high-crime areas, & I should be able to do so totally rest assured that nothing’s going to happen to it.

    I think there’s too much pressure at times to make people, parents especially, compromise their rights because of the environment, versus taking a stand against it & asserting your rights. For instance, I once had my child swim across a lake with me (she had a lifejacket on) even though boats would occasionally go by. I had others tell me I shouldn’t do that–my reply, I’m in a no-wake zone, the boats better watch where they’re going or else they’re going to have a fight on their hands. I’m not surrendering the water, and my girl’s right to responsibly explore, because they are being reckless.

    Yes–sometimes, rather than fighting the battle & being idealistic, you will instead be REALISTIC & assume a “play the game to survive” stance. People pulled over for speeding being courteous to the police, even if they think the speed limit is a bunch of bologna, comes to mind–save the fight for the courtroom, but here “on the scene,” play the game to get out with as little damage as possible. I just think there’s too many situations where people are told to do that, versus asserting what’s right, and I tend to think this is one of them.

    Luckily my kids, ages 3½ and 5½ now, are old enough to get in & out of the car themselves, but when they weren’t–oh yes, I most certainly did leave them in the car with the car running at times. I kept my eyes on the scene, yes, but I did this just the same.



  37. Kay December 12, 2012 at 2:11 am #

    Gotta love this brain trust’s comment on the linked story:

    “I would have moved the car to a parking space very near to where it was originally parked and then waited for the father to return. If the motive was out of concern for the child’s safety, why did the guy run off? Give the father a fright, yes, but don’t leave the poor kid unattended.”

    Apparently what this idiot did is now putting ideas in some child vigilante’s head. It’s okay to play games and move someone’s car around because it’s all for the sake of the children.

    @LRH, I still think one should be cautious in high crime areas but if one is in a relatively safe area and running in picking up a pizza or a convenient store, I don’t see anything wrong with leaving the kids in the car with it running, especially if one can still see the car. It’s like a 3 minute or less stop. It would be so random and unexpected for that type of hijacking in a known safe area. But let’s say the freak thing did happen, of course it’s the parents fault they didn’t bring in all the kids into the pizza shop instead of like the old days- wow! those poor parents, and that crazy person doing such a thing. Thank goodness my kids are old enough now to stay at home for any kind of run to the store.

    When my youngest was close to one, I did leave him in the car sleeping while I ran in to pick up my oldest in preschool. But it was in a fairly rural church parking lot near the door with no surrounding businesses. But I always felt at some point I was going to get raised eyebrows or some comment from the other moms who were bringing their sleeping babies in to just pick up their kid. (Luckily I didn’t.) I did mention it to the teacher (also my neighbor) how I thought it ridiculous to haul him through the weather inside and that sometimes I felt like I was just going through the motions to appease people in this type of situation. She agreed with me, though.

  38. Andy December 12, 2012 at 4:17 am #

    It is always funny when people cry “current parents dropped the ball” and “parents do not care about their children anymore, not like in the good old days”. Current parents are expected to do way more kids related then the generation before in the good old days.

    Then people turn around and complain about kids expecting or having more interaction then the generation before. Really?

  39. Claudia January 24, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    I am so glad I found this website (was looking for the “parking lot abduction” story). It makes me feel sane again to read articles and comments from people who are not as paranoid as the majority of parents (& non-parents) seem to be these day.

    I actually had someone (2 “concerned citizens” actually) call the police because I had left my sleeping toddler in the car while running a quick errand. Obviously, a sleeping toddler warrants the waste of police time and tax payer money. One of the callers claimed to be an employee of the store. I was outraged that people had felt it necessary to report a peacefully sleeping child in a locked car to the police in the first place. But the behavior of this employee brought my blood to boiling point. He displayed a menacing and threatening attitude, was almost out of control, and accused me first of criminal child neglect, then, upon learning that I am a foreigner, he told me I should go back to where I came from and proceeded to accuse me of not being the mother at all but of having abducted the child. He even went so far as to accuse another randomly passing-by customer of being my boyfriend and accomplice in the alleged abduction. The employee also tried to bar my access to my car, and at one point he even – uninvitedly – opened a door of my car. His whole manner and attitude reminded me of that of the stereotype (known from movies, TV shows, and films) of a self-righteous person who watches too many TV crime/mystery shows, too much sensationalistic cable news, and then deems himself to be some kind of civil deputy sheriff or detective, with dark deeds lurking around each and every corner, who is unravelling a “crime” that happens in his vicinity – all this along with a serious lack in the intellectual faculties of reason, (common) sense, and judgement.

    I really would have liked to explain my view on likelihood of random child abduction from a locked car – especially compared to other risks we all are exposed to simply by driving in traffic – to the rather nice police officer. (It’s probably more likely to be struck by lightning or to win the lottery than that kind of abduction happening). But who wants to get into that kind of discussion. Most people are simply not sensible in risk assessment, especially when children are involved – there are even studies about that. In hindsight, I probably should have described the employee’s inappropriate behavior to the police as well, but I was way too upset and just wanted to get out of there.

    At this point I should admit that my husband does not share my view in leaving a sleeping baby unattended in a locked car for a few minutes, even in our peaceful New England college town. (He grew up in a big city and I understand that with my small town background, our perspectives and experiences differ.)

    P.S.: I am happy to say that my toddler slept deeply and peacefully through the whole unpleasant affair.