For every person who acts negligently in this world, there is another who will take matters into their own hands. Of these, some get the recognition they deserve, and one such man is retired Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Steve Eckel.
Eckel was in the right place at the right time, and that place was the parking lot of a Kohl’s department store in Howell Township, New Jersey. Eckel saw something strange inside a car that immediately set off his internal alarm. It was a 4-month-old baby inside a locked car by herself, screaming so loudly that her face was beet-red and Eckel could hear her through the glass.
The outside temperature was sweltering and authorities later estimated that the temperature inside the car had reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). The baby was in trouble. “Just think of what could have happened,” Eckel told WCBS-TV.
Eckel regaled to the news channel that the baby was sweating and crying, and “she was screaming so loud you could see her eyes rolling back.” Eckel, dressed in his civilian attire—a “Trump 2016” T-shirt and flip-flops—remembered the drill all too well and raced back to his vehicle. He had recently cleared out his car but had left a sledgehammer in the trunk, and in the moment, this was likely to be the very tool that could save the baby’s life.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 31, 2016
Eckel also made sure to call 911. “I’ve got an infant in a locked car,” he hurriedly explained to the operator. “The baby’s crying in the car.” Citing his instincts as a father, Eckel, with the help of another good Samaritan, smashed the window of the car and lifted the screaming baby out.
Immediately, Eckel rushed her into the Kohl’s lobby to cool off under the air conditioning; first responders later claimed that this action helped her to make a full recovery.
“I almost started to cry,” Eckel shared. “I got really emotional at that point.”
He stayed with the recovering baby for some time; police estimated that the baby’s mother was inside the store for approximately 40 minutes. She eventually left the store but returned to her car to see a scene of chaos: shattered glass, an empty vehicle, and a missing baby. She screamed “Oh my God, where’s my baby?” according to Eckel, but a local first responder was on standby. The cop asked her, calmly and firmly, to take a seat.
The police arrested Karen Gruen, 33, for endangering the welfare of a child, and the baby was placed in the care of her father. “She should plead guilty,” was Eckel’s advice, “and get some probation and realize that you just don’t do this!”
The retired cop, however, is no stranger to horror and heartbreak, and at the tail end of his professional career he is mercifully able to focus on the positives. This story ended with a healthy baby, out of harm’s way, and that’s something to be immensely grateful for.
“I do believe in guardian angels,” Eckel shared, “and I think that I’m the one for this child.” This is an exemplary case of right person, right place, and right time; we couldn’t agree more.