A shadow loomed up and down the street, searching for hope.
“Not many things have shaken me up or made me almost tear up, but this one definitely did it for me,” reflected Springfield College Police officer Paige Whiting. “K-A-Y-D-E-N will always stick out in my mind.”
In the city of Springfield, police officers have tended to situations of nearly every magnitude. However some events are so unparalleled, that it is impossible for officers not to be impacted on a deeply emotional level.
In the early morning of Sunday, February 4, Springfield College students found themselves leaving King Street and heading back to campus. Despite what originally felt like a routine night out, the headlights of sophomore Shannon Anfuso’s silver Sonata revealed a situation that would quickly become one she’ll remember forever.
“For a split second, I just assumed it was somebody walking home,” recalled Anfuso. Then, her headlights illuminated the T-shirt, underwear, and red Jordans worn by what appeared to be a little boy.
“His body was literally shaking and he couldn’t stop,” explained sophomore Victor Carrion, who was also in Anfuso’s car. “His voice was raspy and he couldn’t really talk at all.”
This 6-year-old boy was found wandering King Street alone around 2 a.m., as the brisk 20 degree air whipped through his vulnerable body. His name was Kayden.
Scared of strangers, Kayden had initially darted away from Anfuso’s car, attempting to hide in a neighbor’s yard. However, when Carrion rolled down his window and simply asked, “You okay?” the boy changed his mind and bolted to the car. What seemed like a small gesture of kindness, proved to be a monumental sign of hope.
Kayden hopped onto Carrion’s lap, where he felt the warm air blow onto his frigid skin.
“We asked him what he was doing outside and he just told us that he wanted to go to his grandmother’s house,” said Carrion. “Initially he tried to give us directions on where he was going, but after awhile he just kept quiet, because I think he got lost.”
However Anfuso knew that even if she had understood his directions, they were not for the location that she needed to bring him to. Instead, she listened to the directions in order to make sure that Kayden felt safe and empowered, rather than afraid he was being kidnapped.
“I just turned when he told me to turn, and then we did a giant circle so that we got to Public Safety,” said Anfuso. “I had no intention of bringing him wherever he was going. I just felt safer giving him to adults who knew what they were doing.”
That’s when Officer Whiting heard her sergeant’s voice on her radio say, “Patrol seven, can you come to the station?” Unaware of the situation, Whiting remembered thinking that on a college campus, “it’s typically medical or alcohol related, or those common kinds of issues, especially on a Saturday night.” Those guesses could not have been further from what she found.
“I see this little boy, sweetest little boy, shivering,” she said. “I threw my jacket on him. We threw whatever jackets we could find on him just to warm him up.”
Whiting’s instincts took over. It was her early childhood background – having worked in daycares, private schools, and at Springfield College’s Childhood Development Center – that allowed Whiting to get helpful answers from Kayden.
“[Springfield College has] the element of the bad part of the city, and it’s all knitted into our community,” acknowledged Whiting. “Even though we are committed to our specific population, we won’t just ignore something that happens that is serious.”
Familiar with the danger of the nearby area, Whiting was thankful that Anfuso and Carrion had trusted their instincts and taken action to help Kayden.
“To me, they saved his life,” Whiting said. “I’ll forever commend them for what they did. I’ll always remember that this is by far the most touching thing I’ve ever experienced in my time in law enforcement.”
The only person who may have been more moved that Whiting was Kayden’s grandmother.
“Her first immediate reaction was, ‘It’s my grandbaby,’ said Whiting. “It was very clear that they had a very close relationship, so she was more relieved than anything.”
Reflecting on the situation as a whole, Anfuso shared that same sense of comfort, explaining, “It was more a relief than anything, just knowing that we were in the right place at the right time and happened to find him.”
Carrion agreed with Anfuso, adding that their actions were no different than what any other person would do.
“If I had seen my little brother or sister out there like that, I would have immediately reacted,” Carrion said. “Seeing a kid out there at two in the morning, in a place that’s really not too safe, especially with severely cold weather, we had no choice to think, but to react.”
Seeing their actions a responsibility rather than a conscious decision, Carrion was not expecting any gratitude. Although, when the Dean of Students, Suzanne Nowlan, contacted each of them, they were pleasantly surprised.
“Sergeant Cotter was the one who let me know about it,” recalled Nowlan. After hearing what they had done – potentially saving a little boy’s life – she immediately knew that she needed to contact Anfuso and Carrion.
“It could have been a very different situation, and that’s why I really wanted to not only acknowledge what they had done, but then also make sure that they were doing okay,” explained Nowlan.
Despite the students’ surprise being personally contacted by a dean, it was not an uncommon behavior for Nowlan. At most colleges, the dean of students is also responsible for disciplinary conduct. However, at Springfield, this position has no connection with that.
“The Dean of Students role is 100 percent care, advocacy, and support for students,” clarified Nowlan. “Most of what I do is reaching out and helping students and supporting them and making sure that they’re okay after I hear about something that they might be going through.”
Nowlan is aware that it may seem intimidating, but urges to students like Anfuso and Carrion that, “this isn’t a scary place to come. This is where you come if you need some help.”
Whiting understands that stigma well, as she feels that Public Safety is frequently viewed in a very similar manner. She understands all that encompasses the college experience, and advises students that, “I want you to have a good time and I want you to do it safely, but if it interferes with jeopardizing your safety, it’s my obligation to care and to do something about it.”
Whiting believes that in terms of students’ safety, “I want them to feel like they can come to us with anything that we can help them with.”
That is exactly what Anfuso and Carrion did, and in Nowlan’s eyes, one of the many aspects that contributed to a tremendously fortunate outcome.
“I love that they trusted Public Safety – that they knew if they went there, they would help, because not everybody would feel that way, and we want people to feel that way because we know that that’s what they’re there for,” said Nowlan.
Anfuso’s decision to go to Public Safety was simple. She understood the severity of the situation, and prioritized Kayden’s safety over any misconceptions about Public Safety.
“He could’ve been a headline the next day – that he was missing or that he was found dead,” Anfuso said. “If something feels wrong, it’s probably wrong.”
Whiting agrees with Anfuso, and encourages others to always remember that their own safety is the top priority.
“If you see something that doesn’t seem right, call somebody,” Whiting advised. “Obviously I don’t want to see students or anybody on this campus put themselves in danger, but if you feel that you’re in no way endangering yourself and you want to act to help somebody else, I think that’s wonderful.”
Looking back on the situation, knowing that Kayden was able to return to his loved ones alive and unharmed, Anfuso realizes that, “I don’t think you know what kind of impact you’ll have on someone with such a simple effort.”
Gabby can be reached at email@example.com