One of Lucy Ingram's customers told her on Saturday morning that a man had struck a boy in the face and boarded a bus without him. When she found the child, his feet were soaking wet and he was wearing swim trunks, a T-shirt, a summer jacket, a toque and one mitten.
"He came right to me, arms up, and I just picked him up and brought him across the street and into the store," said Ingram, who works at Berezan Liquor Store.
"We were trying to get him to say anything, but he didn't say anything, not even a word for over an hour and a half."
RCMP are recommending the Crown lay assault and child abandonment charges against the boy's father. The suspect has since been released with conditions and the boy has been safely reunited with his mother.
Ingram said she and a coworker cared for the boy for four hours on Saturday, trying to cheer him up with iPhone games and toys, until workers with the Ministry of Children and Family Development arrived.
She was touched by an outpouring of support after a customer posted the toddler's photo on her community Facebook page.
"The amount of people that came in just from the Facebook page to bring him teddy bears, little dinosaur toys... That perked him right up when he saw the dinosaur toys. From there on in his name was 'dinosaur.' That was all he would say," she said.
Another customer drove home and came back with sweatpants and a hoodie for him to wear, she added.
Ingram said police came within the hour but the boy remained in the store until about 2:30 p.m. when ministry workers arrived. By that point she and her coworker had grown so attached to the little boy they had trouble saying goodbye, she said.
She recalled that once the boy finally began talking, he asked for his mother.
Staff Sgt. Joe Johal said the suspect is a Surrey resident who is in his early 40s. Police are also recommending a theft charge because they allege he was caught on security video stealing three cans of juice from a nearby convenience store shortly before the alleged incident at the bus stop.
Johal thanked witnesses who called police and circulated the boy's photo on social media, saying they helped officers swiftly identify the suspect and get him into custody on Saturday.
"A lot of people called and (there were) a lot of tips, and even the arrest that took place was due to a tip from a citizen who observed and called us," he said.
Police felt it was safe to return the boy to the mother's care but the ministry will keep its file open, said Johal.
The investigation continues and police are still looking to speak with additional witnesses. No names have been released.
Ingram remains shaken by the incident. She said she feels "sick to her stomach" thinking about the boy being left alone at the stop.
"I just couldn't imagine," she said. "The thought of that being my grandson or my granddaughter or one of my daughters when they were small, it just horrified me."
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