Elizabeth “Tib” Spillane, a former lieutenant with the Atlanta Police Department, couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw a 4-year-old girl running down the middle of Riverdale Road Wednesday evening.
As Spillane drove her husband to the airport, the girl came toward them, wearing only one shoe, while cars whizzed past at 25 and 30 mph.
It was just past 5 p.m. and the air outside was frigid — in the 20s with a wind chill putting temperatures in the single digits. “It was so strange in the sunset, to see this little girl with her hands in the air, running towards the cars that were trying to pass her,” said Spillane, 53. “It looked to me like she was looking for help.”
Then Spillane’s husband, Georgia State University Police Chief Joseph Spillane, got out of the passenger seat and tried to find out where the little girl belonged.
The girl, Arya Davenport, told him, “Somebody stole my mom’s (car) and they put me out, and my little sister is still in the car,” he said. The Spillanes called 911 and gave directions to the dispatcher and within minutes patrol cars from College Park and Clayton County police were on the scene.
It would be another hour and half, however, before police located Arya’s little sister, 1-month-old Ava Wilmer. The infant had been dumped on the side of South Fulton Parkway, still strapped into her pink and black car seat.
The car seat was partway in the road, tipped over onto its side, where it stayed for more than an hour in the icy weather and the growing darkness, as dozens of drivers swerved to avoid her.
One of those drivers was Thamara Booker, 41, of Fairburn. “It is a miracle that no one hit her,” said Booker, who saw the car seat in the road, near I-285, around 5:30 Wednesday evening, as she was driving to work. Like the other drivers around her, she assumed the car seat was empty. “Because of the ice, everyone was driving slow, and had to maneuver around her.”
She found out later, to her horror, that a baby was in that car seat that she spotted. “I felt awful I didn’t stop,” said Booker, a schoolteacher who also works an evening shift for a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, sorting mail at the airport. “I could have saved her from being out there that long.”
Both little girls were sitting in the back of a black Chevy Equinox at a QuikTrip on Riverdale Road Wednesday evening, when their mother, Precious Wilmer, ran inside the store, leaving the engine running. She came out of the store and saw the car being driven away.
As Channel 2 Action News photojournalist Brian Ferguson and reporter Nefertiti Jaquez drove to the QuikTrip to cover the story, they noticed an object by the side of the road. After they learned of the kidnapping, Ferguson jumped in a police cruiser to lead police to the location of the object, which turned out to be Ava’s car seat.
At that point the baby had been out in the cold more than an hour.
Both children appeared unharmed but were taken to Southern Regional Medical Center to determine their condition.
Sgt. Ashanti Marbury, public information officer for the Clayton County Police, said the SUV was recovered on Metropolitan Parkway. Video of the carjacking at the QuikTrip was inconclusive and no one had been arrested as of Thursday evening. She added that “So far no charges have been filed against the mother but our Criminal Investigation Division is still (determining) if there will be charges filed.”
Booker shudders to think what might have happened to those little girls. “If it had been any other day, people would’ve been driving the normal speed limit and this may have turned out differently,” she said.
Former police lieutenant Spillane was also horrified. “Both of these children could have died, and whoever was responsible didn’t care. I’ve been policing for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of bad out of people, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like that.”