Social media helps deputies locate parents of toddler found alone in Wellington park

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WELLINGTON, Carbon County — A 3-year-old girl dressed only in a diaper slipped out of her house Wednesday morning without her mother's knowledge, walked two blocks and crossed U.S. 6 before she was found safe in a city park, according to detectives.

Dispatchers were contacted about 6:50 a.m. after someone spotted the toddler walking across the highway to the park, Carbon County sheriff's detective Wally Hendricks said. The girl was cold but otherwise uninjured when deputies found her in the park and took her into protective custody, Hendricks said.

Investigators, however, couldn't get the girl to tell them her parents' names or show them where she lives.

"She wasn't very happy with all the strangers around her," Hendricks said.

Faced with more questions than answers, detectives used the sheriff's office Facebook page and Twitter account to ask the public for help.

We put a post on Facebook and Twitter and in 11 minutes we had the parents identified and contacted.

–Wally Hendricks, Carbon County sheriff's detective

"We put a post on Facebook and Twitter and in 11 minutes we had the parents identified and contacted," Hendricks said. "This could have normally taken hours and hours — maybe even days — and cost a lot of manpower and resources. Eleven minutes and we had the parents found."

The girl's mother did not realize her daughter had left the house until a friend called her to say the sheriff's office had posted the child's photo on Facebook, Hendricks said. By the time detectives reached her, he said, the woman was "hysterical."

"Just like you would suspect any mother to be to realize her child to be gone," said Hendricks, who added that the woman has been "100 percent cooperative" with detectives and Division of Child and Family Services caseworkers.

The family's house is equipped with an alarm system. However, the mother told investigators she did not arm it before she went to sleep Tuesday night because she didn't want the alarm to sound when an overnight houseguest left for work early Wednesday morning.

No one knows for certain how long the child was gone from the home. She was last seen about 5 a.m. when the houseguest left for work, Hendricks said. The girl's mother was still sleeping at the time and her father was at work, the detective said.

Investigators plan to forward their findings to the Carbon County Attorney's Office for review. Hendricks said the incident illustrates "how fast a child can wander off."

"We try to remind parents to think about the worst-case scenario and plan ahead," he said, "because literally you turn your head for a second and a child can wander off and be in danger."

Contributing: Shara Park


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