The day a missing 5-year-old girl was found on a TriMet bus

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Our TriMet bus operators interact with kids all the time – some while riding with parents and some kids riding alone. Thursday, July 23 was no different. At 6 a.m., an operator of a Line 71 bus noticed a girl boarding at SE 122nd and Foster with an adult man following behind her. Video from the bus shows the girl pay her fare with no hesitancy, and then sit down. The man sits across the aisle. Just a normal day, until a few hours later with media reports, neighbors and even random strangers criticizing the operator, questioning how a bus driver could have let a young child ride alone.

“We got a missing 5-year-old”

How did a ‘normal day’ change so quickly? About 45 minutes after the girl stepped onto that bus, a call came into our Operations Control Center: A 5-year-old girl was missing. Here are some excerpts from the call:

Police dispatcher: “We got a missing 5-year-old. Wanted to give you a description.”
TriMet dispatcher: “K.”
Police dispatcher: “Hispanic female. Five years old. She’s taller, I guess, than normal so she looks a little older.”
TriMet dispatcher: “K.”
Police dispatcher: “Um, she’s medium build, has dark long curly hair, wearing a white T-shirt and floral pajama bottoms.”

Police dispatcher: “Her name is Alecia.”
TriMet dispatcher: “Spell… Licia?”
Police dispatcher: “Alecia.”
TriMet dispatcher: “Oh Alicia… A, l, i, c.”
Police dispatcher: “A-l-e-c-i-a.”
TriMet dispatcher: “I’m sorry, once more… A-l”
Police dispatcher: “E-c-i-a.”

Police dispatcher: “They want you to see if any of your drivers have actually picked her up.”
TriMet dispatcher: “Yeah, I’ll get it out right away.”

Hear the entire call

 

Alert goes out to our bus operators

The alert with the girl’s description and name popped up on the operators’ screens on our buses. Even though the girl who got on at 122nd and Foster had long hair in braids rather than long curly hair, and was wearing a pink T-shirt and jeans, not a white T-shirt and floral pajamas, the operator called back to the girl asking if her name was Alecia. The girl said no.

“Are you sure your name isn’t Alecia?”

A little while later, the operator noticed that the man who also boarded the bus at the same stop was gone. The operator asked the girl, “What happened to the man who was with you?” The girl, still showing no cause for concern, said she didn’t know and that she was going to see her sister. The operator then asked, “Are you sure your name isn’t Alecia?” and the girl again said no.

Missing girl found on board the bus

At some point it appears from the bus video that the girl fell asleep. Meanwhile, our dispatchers were working with police to identify all the buses that had been in the area at the time the girl went missing. An operator reported seeing a girl in area of 122nd and Foster sometime before 6 a.m. but she was not near the stop at the time. So our dispatcher told police that the next Line 71 through that area was just now pulling into Clackamas Town Center. A sheriff’s deputy met up with the bus. The video shows him board and appear to wake the girl, and at 7:25 a.m., about 40 minutes after TriMet was first alerted about a missing girl, the deputy walks her off the bus.

So why did the girl say her name wasn’t Alecia? Because it wasn’t. Apparently her name is Felicity. TriMet had been given the wrong name.

Could the operator have known anything was wrong?

Even though the information from police said the girl looked older than her age, and even though the girl was found safe on the bus and returned home, with questions coming in quickly from media, we launched an investigation. Managers talked with the operator and others, after they returned from their routes. They had the data cartridge that captures video on board removed from the bus and went through the video. In it, the girl’s actions never show any cause for alarm.

Watch the video from the bus

At what age does a child ride transit alone?

This incident has led to discussions on how old a child should be to ride alone. We leave it up to parents to decide, but if a very young child boards alone, or if the child is in distress and the operator is concerned for the child’s safety, the operator contacts our control center for assistance.