A resourceful Colorado tot was able to find his way back to his father by knocking on a stranger's door on a freezing cold night after his dad's car was hijacked while he was in the back seat.
Three-year-old Roilati Pettiford showed up at the Colorado Springs home of Traci Gilbert, 53, around 2:30 a.m. Sunday. The boy, wearing nighttime diapers and a thin jacket, was covered in snow and carried a plastic bag that held a container of soy milk, a Sippy cup, two diapers, wipes and pajama bottoms.
Gilbert said she didn't see anything when she looked through her peephole when her doorbell rang. "I opened the door, and a little tiny boy was standing there and he said, 'Help me, it's cold,'" she said.
The boy had managed to climb up 14 slippery, slush-covered steps on an icy, sleety night in pitch darkness, with temperatures in the 30s.
The boy's father, Anthony Pettiford, said they were in his car returning from a family event when he stopped to purchase gum at a convenience store, leaving his keys in the ignition momentarily. Pettiford said he ran into some friends and was talking with them when a carjacker jumped into his vehicle and took off with his son still in the back seat.
"I started running after him. And he hit that gas so fast I couldn't catch him," Pettiford said.
Pettiford said he and his friends chased the car for 10 blocks but were unable to catch up with the thief. It is believed that the child was dropped off to fend for himself a few blocks from the store once the carjacker realized he was committing a kidnapping.
Pettiford thinks his son was attempting to return to the store where he was abducted. "He knew what to do. He's a champ," Pettiford said.
Gilbert, a 53-year-old nurse at Memorial Hospital, told the Associated Press that she initially thought Roilati might have run away from home when he showed up at her door, but when she asked, the boy told her his parents were "happy." She says she's amazed he was able to get himself to her house.
"What a hero, because I feel, with all my heart and with my nursing experience, his life was in jeopardy," she said.
Gilbert quickly sent her adult son out to help the boy find his father. Gilbert's son flagged down a police officer who was helping search for the boy, and Pettiford was soon reunited with his son.
Gilbert was able to meet the boy's father and mother Natasha Pettiford Monday night, and spend some time with him under less confused circumstances.
The car thief is still at large and the 1995 Chrysler New Yorker has yet to be recovered. As for the Anthony Pettiford, according to the Colorado Springs Police Department, he will likely not face charges because he was standing next to his vehicle when Roilati was abducted.
He said he'll never leave the kids in the car alone ever again.