TORONTO — A frantic search for a four-year-old girl who disappeared when her family car was stolen from the driveway of her Toronto home ended Friday morning when she was reunited with her parents after going missing for more than three hours.
Toronto police said the girl was discovered sitting in the running vehicle around 9:30 a.m. — not far from where she was taken in the city's west end.
Det. Ranbir Dhillon said the car was abandoned with the child inside, adding that an alert passerby was responsible for telling police about the girl's whereabouts.
"Someone walking by found the car. It's running. She's inside,'' Dhillon said at a press conference moments after the girl was found. "Our officers got on scene and confirmed that ... she's ok.''
Mother: 'I don't know what to say'
Video footage shot by local media showed the girl high-fiving police officers as she was carried out of an ambulance in her father's arms.
The child's mother, showing visible signs of emotion, made a brief statement in which she repeatedly expressed her joy and relief at her daughter's safe return.
"I'm so happy because I have only two daughters,'' she said. "I don't know what to say.''
A man identifying himself as a cousin later emerged to thank police and the public for their help in locating the girl and requested privacy for the family as they recover from a "traumatic event.''
"Do not leave your child in a car alone, ever.''
— Det. Ranbir Dhillon
The hunt for the girl began shortly after 6 a.m. when police said her parents put her in the running car, then returned inside their home to retrieve another child.
When the parents returned about 10 minutes later, they said the car was gone with the girl seated inside. Around 7:30 a.m. police issued an Amber Alert, which is used to make the public aware of circumstances in which a child may be in danger.
Dhillon said police still have no information on the suspect who made off with the vehicle, including age, gender and whether or not there's a connection to the family.
Dhillon said, however, that he was "feeling good'' about the successful resolution of the case, likening the search for the girl to hunting for a needle in a haystack.
He said the incident highlights the importance of safeguarding children in vehicles.
"Do not leave your children in your car,'' he said. "You should be there with your child, especially if they're this young. Do not leave your child in a car alone, ever.''