A Belleville, Ill. couple is searching for answers as to why a school bus driver gave their 4-year-old child to someone claiming to be his grandmother.
The boy, they said, then vanished. While his parents did eventually locate their son, they said they are still in shock over how easy it was for someone to walk away with their child.
Last week, 4-year-old Malik Smith boarded the school bus to head home from his school, Belle Valley School.
“He was a little early,” said Marlon Smith referring to the bus driver.
The driver reached the boy's bus stop before father Marlon Smith got there, so he caught up in his car with the bus.
“I stopped him that way and asked him, ‘Where is Malik’... and he said, ‘I gave him to his granny' so I'm like, ‘You know his granny. His granny don't stay nowhere around here,’ said Smith.
Realizing they did not know who took the boy, both father and mother Latanya panicked.
“I was afraid... I was afraid I wasn't going to see him again. I was just afraid,” said Malik’s mother.
They found their son coming out of a neighbor's home. The parents claimed the person was someone the boy did not know. Neither parent authorized anyone to pick the boy up from the stop.
“It was the bus driver who gave my baby to this woman freely even though he spoke up for himself,” she said.
Smith claimed she confronted the driver who admitted the boy said he did not know the woman, but the driver thought the boy was joking because he smiled when he made the statement. Smith claimed the driver did admit he made a mistake.
Smith also claimed she confronted the School District Superintendent, R. Dane Gale.
“You didn't get a phone call from me, I didn't call the school. Nothing, no ID, no anything. This could've been anybody who is around just watching us,” said Smith.
Smith called 5 On Your Side, fearing the superintendent was not taking the matter seriously enough because the driver remains on the same route.
Belle Valley school policy requires the bus driver bring a child back to the school when an adult isn't there.“All Kindergarten and First Grade students MUST be physically attended to/met at the bus stop by an adult (18 yrs.and over). If no adult is present at the drop-off, the student WILL BE brought back to and placed in the Extended School Program. Parents of children who are brought back will be billed for this service.”
We followed up with Gale, who told us he and the other school district that runs the buses are putting in place measures to confirm only authorized adults to pick children up. They have also considered whether to transfer the driver.
The Smiths say their son Malik is usually an outgoing happy child, but since the incident, he refuses to sleep alone. The parents say they too are suffering emotionally.
“She cries, she cries and then I cry you know because that's my baby,”
They won't put their son back on the bus because the driver has not been transferred and they no longer trust him.
After speaking with 5 On Your Side, Superintendent Gale sent the following written statement.
Belle Valley School received a report from a concerned parent that a driver from the bus company which transports our pre-k students allowed a student to be picked up by a person he did not confirm was a custodial parent, guardian or member of the family. A thorough review of the incident was undertaken by both Belle Valley District No. 119 and by Harmony District No. 175, the School District that transports the pre-k students. Both Districts are working together to address this incident and to put in place corrective measures that address the factors that lead to this incident.