MONSON — Shawn Bronson and Mike Payne said it was shocking to see a 2-year-old girl, clad only in a diaper, running barefoot and alone alongside Main Street in last Thursday’s bitter cold.
“It was a tough sight,” said Bronson, who has a daughter of his own. “She was crying very much, she was shaking, she wasn’t really speaking.”
The two men, driving down the street at about 2:30 p.m., saw the little girl slip on ice and fall onto the recently-salted roadway. Her exposed skin was “almost purple” from the single-digit temperatures and she cut her leg when she fell, Bronson said.
“I was looking around expecting to see a parent or somebody else running behind the little girl,” said Payne, who has a young daughter as well.
The two men, Comcast system technicians between service calls, quickly realized the toddler was on her own and that they had to act quickly to prevent her from running onto busy Main Street – and to get her warm.
They stopped their vehicle and each approached the girl from a slightly different angle to avoid startling her and having her dart out into traffic.
The two men scooped the girl up and Payne wrapped her in his jacket and placed his hat on her head.
Bronson and Payne then rushed the little girl into the Woodbine Country Store, located right there at Main and Cushman, to warm her up.
The two men asked the startled clerk to call police.
“She was upset and crying and really hard to understand,” Payne said of the toddler.
Things moved quickly after that, the men said. The clerk grabbed a blanket to swaddle the child and gave her a stuffed horse in an effort to calm her down. Police Chief Stephen Kozloski and EMTs were soon on the scene.
One of the EMTs blew up a rubber glove, “like a rooster,” to further distract the toddler while they checked her out, the men said. Kozloski gave her Beanie Baby from the store.
“It was an awesome community effort,” Bronson said. “Everybody came together really quickly. Everybody was Johnny-on-the-spot.”
The EMTs asked Bronson to accompany the still-distraught girl in the ambulance, in hopes of minimizing her trauma, for the ride to Wing Memorial Hospital in Palmer.
It was a good call, because the girl started to relax a bit along the way.
“I was kind of bouncing her and one of the EMTs said ‘I can’t believe it, I think she is getting ready to fall asleep,” Bronson said.
Hospital personnel were waiting with warmed-up blankets when the ambulance arrived. That’s the last Bronson saw of the girl.
“I felt good about handing her off because I felt her day was going to get better at this point,” he said.
Monson police, in a post on the department’s Facebook page put out later that day, said they identified the girl and her father, who was “completely unaware that the child had wandered off until he was notified by police.”
Police, in that post, stated that charges were pending and that the state Department of Families and Children was notified.
State DCF spokesman Andrea Grossman said Friday afternoon the department has opened an investigation into the matter.
Grossman, citing privacy requirements, would not elaborate on the incident and the investigation. She said Wednesday the investigation is ongoing.
Police said Tuesday that charges were still pending. They could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
Bronson and Payne said they later learned the girl lived a short distance away from where they found her. They have no idea how long she had been out in the cold.
“I don’t think she made it too far but I don’t know how far she wandered,” Payne said.
Payne said he could only guess at what the wind chills were that afternoon. He said the center of town serves to funnel the wind and it “was cranking” that day.
Police, in their Facebook post, praised the men for “their quick action leading to a positive outcome.”
The two men, both 44-year-old Monson natives, grew up together and both graduated from Monson High School in 1992.
A quirk of fate brought them together last Thursday. Bronson typically works in Springfield but his truck was in the shop for repair and the two men were working together in Monson.