I’ve never spoken about this.
I started to…many times.
The pain of the “what-if’s” was paralyzing, preventing my fingers from typing the words.
Every year when I see the social media posts with the red X’s I think,
“This is the year to talk about this. It’s time. Just sit down and write!”
And once again the fear of the potential tragedy and grief overwhelm me, leaving me unable to form the words.
A few days ago, the hashtag #savethechildren popped up in my feed. As I scrolled through the posts, there I was, back in the same headspace I’ve been for the last 4 years.
“Tell the story.
Harper Rain…and Tuda…
That awful day…
Can I even remember the details correctly?
It’s too hard.
. . . . .
Someone needs this.
Someone needs to know they’re not alone.
Shine a light in the darkness.
Grieve openly with those who are personally affected.
Share the story.”
It took a few days, but here I am, fingertips to keys, words on paper.
Breaking my years-long silence with this story of how a beautiful, playful, unremarkable day could have ended in life-altering tragedy.
I was taking pictures of Harper as I’ve done since the day she was born.
My sister drove up, we had a wonderful day shooting.
She planned to stop at a large retail store on her way out of town, for a quick shopping trip.
The crowds were thicker than usual causing my sister to hold on to Harper a little tighter. As they were headed towards the exit, a well-dressed man moving swiftly through the crowd, grabbed Harper’s arm, pulling her from my sister’s grasp. Within seconds, Tuda was watching the stranger carry Harper towards the elevators leading to the parking deck.
She began screaming and running towards the man as Harper looked back at her, over the shoulder of the stranger.
Just before advancing through the open doors of the elevator, the man tripped, dropping Harper to the ground. An onlooker swept her up as the perpetrator slid through the now closing doors of the elevator. He was gone.
All of this happened in less than 60 seconds.
Out of breath, my sister approached the good Samaritan now holding her daughter, he quickly placed Harper in her mama’s arms.
Relief, adrenaline, horror, outrage, unconditional love, all swirled together in her mind and heart. “Thank you, God!”
The police arrived quickly to take statements and file a report.
The officer informed Tuda of a ring of human traffickers working the area in Atlanta. He had no doubt the man was headed for the elevator leading down to a running vehicle waiting to make a quick exit from the garage and onto the freeway.
“If he had made it to the car with her, the chances of you ever seeing your daughter again would have been slim to none,” he told her.
By this time the onlookers had mostly dispersed. The man who stuck his foot out tripping the predator, and scooping up our Harper, was nowhere to be found.
My sister, too shaken up to drive the 2-1/2 hours home, booked a hotel room. I arrived shortly after her call, alerting me to what had just taken place.
We watched Harper run around the room, playing in beams of light from the setting sun shining through the window…oblivious to the life-altering danger she was in a short time ago.
My sister and I said very little.
We sat in gratitude, with tears running down our cheeks and the sun’s warmth on our faces.
“Do you believe in angels?” You ask.
“Why, yes…without a doubt, I believe in angels.”
Below is a poem I wrote after leaving the hotel room that night while thanking God for sparing us from the living hell of what could have been.
“Little brown girl in the sun,
Little girl of only one,
Reaching higher for the light,
Don’t you know you burn so bright
Dancing in their golden hue
Don’t you know it’s all for you
Beams of love, protection, & grace
Swirl around and kiss your face
The Angels knew you at first sight
Precious one, adorned in light.”
– Joy Cannis
July 2, 2016
For Harper Rain
For more information on human trafficking visit one or all of these organizations.