Nicholas Clark was only 2 years old when he was taken for the ride of his life.
Safely asleep in his mother’s car, she stopped for a moment at the back of her parents’ shop to quickly grab something. It was an errand she had pulled a hundred times, and her parents’ shop felt as safe as her own home. The whole thing couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes, so she went inside together with Nicholas’s older sister.
But during those precious few minutes, two men saw the unattended car, jumped in, and sped off.
When Nicholas’s sister looked outside, she saw the car was gone and pointed it out to their mother.
“At first, my mom didn’t believe her and said she parked in a different spot than usual but my sister insisted it was gone,” Nicholas wrote. “My mom went outside and lo and behold, it was gone.”
“In an instant panic, my mom just stood there screaming, like some cliche scene in a movie as she recalls.”
His grandmother had already gotten on the phone, dialing the police. Car thefts are common in San Diego, but there was a toddler in the car this time—it was a kidnapping. At the time, Nicholas’s father and uncle were in the Highway Patrol, so the situation quickly escalated into a car chase, helicopter surveillance, and closing of the border between California and Mexico to prevent the unwitting kidnappers’ escape.
The two men had apparently come to America from Mexico illegally and had just been found and about to be arrested. They were on the run when they saw an unlocked car and attempted to use it to drive back past the border.
Within minutes, this was all over national news.
When the two men first drove off, they didn’t even realize Nicholas was still in the car. But soon the news was everywhere—and when they turned around there was indeed a child in the back of the car.
Their next move would stay with Nicholas forever.
The two pulled up to a Jack-in-the-Box, and bought a chocolate milk and a balloon. They drove all over to a suburban neighborhood, pulled up to a random old lady’s house, and put the child in the stroller with the milk, the balloon, and a handwritten note.
They apologized—“They said they never intended to abduct me and that they have children of their own,” Nicholas recounted on Quora.
“I laugh to this day imagining what people must have thought of two Hispanic men pushing a little white boy around in a stroller with chocolate milk. I also shudder to think what could have happened if they were more desperate; more apathetic towards my well being.”
Nicholas was safe and unharmed in a stroller, on the sidewalk, and then the two men sped off again in his parents’ old car. A helicopter later spotted them and they were apprehended.
Meanwhile, he was found “at that nice lady’s house just as happy as can be.”
He had no inkling of the severity of what had just happened. As a 2-year-old, “in fact my mom’s overwhelming emotion when we were reunited was kind of bizarre to me.”
Eventually the car was returned as well, and the family still has VHS tapes of police footage from the helicopter and local news interviews with the family members.