An Albuquerque mother only walked 10 feet from her car to fill up a few water jugs at the grocery store when a man jumped into her car, which she’d left her keys in, and sped off. As though that wasn’t shocking enough for the lady, her 3-year-old daughter was still seated in the backseat.
It was supposed to be a happy evening for Leon and her daughter, Coraline, who were about to spend their first night in a new apartment. But when her car and daughter were stolen at 8:30 p.m., things took a dramatic turn on the evening of Jan. 2, 2016, in New Mexico.
“I basically just started screaming,” Leon recalled to the Albuquerque Journal. “I’m right in front of the grocery store, and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs. I really don’t know everything that happened after that. I went into a state of hysteria—for the next several hours, I was just a complete, raging basket case.”
Police managed to track down Leon’s car an hour later, but the 3-year-old wasn’t inside. An AMBER alert was sent out.
Officer Chris Poccia, who was accompanied by motorcycle group Guardians of the Children, set out for an hours-long search for young Coraline.
At 1 a.m., when the temperature was roughly 20 degrees Fahrenheit (approx. -6 degrees C), Officer Poccia spotted “a ball of purple.” He approached to find Coraline huddled there by herself, unharmed.
“Some of the Guardians were already kinda converged on my car, were talking with her, putting her jackets on her and stuff, we could tell that she was cold,” Poccia said.
“They were surprised that she would sit there in the parking lot and wait,” Leon said. “But I know she knew she was waiting for me. She knew her mom was coming.”
A father himself, Poccia was only too relieved to have finally found the girl.
“I’ll be honest, on my way home, I started crying too, I was just very happy and thankful that we were able to find her.”
The gut-wrenching incident was soon picked up by the news, showing footage of the moment Coraline was found, which was picked up by Officer Poccia’s body cam.
“It just gives you goosebumps when you see it,” said Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry.
Unfortunately, the suspect remains unknown and at large.
What people took from it was not only to be more vigilant, but on how warm the officer was with the girl, who was freezing by the time she was found.
“I think all of us were touched by the compassion you showed her when you approached her to let her know that she would be safe,” said APD Chief Gorden Eden.
Leon was surprised to find out that the good Samaritans in her community had been out and about looking for her daughter too.
“People were just driving around screaming her name, knocking on doors–I didn’t know that,” Leon said. “I think about it and think that was really amazing.”
“It definitely changes your perspective on life and how you look at things in general and the gratitude that you have for the small blessings,” said Leon. “Good things come to good people, but that doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen.”
Watch the body cam footage below:
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