6-year-old becomes a hero to band of toddlers, rescuers
Tense days lead to reunion of kids and their moms
By ELLEN BARRY
Los Angeles Times
BATON ROUGE, LA. – In the chaos that was Causeway Boulevard, this group of evacuees stood out: a 6-year-old boy walking down the road, holding a 5-month-old, surrounded by five toddlers who followed him around as if he were their leader.
They were holding hands. Three of the children were about 2 years old, and one was wearing only diapers. A 3-year-old girl had her 14-month-old brother in tow. The 6-year-old spoke for all of them, and he said his name was Deamonte Love.
After their rescue Thursday, paramedics in the Baton Rouge rescue operations headquarters tried to coax their names out of them.
Transporting the children alone was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, knowing that their parents are either dead” or that they had been abandoned, said Pat Coveney, a Houston emergency medical technician who put them into the back of his ambulance and drove them out of New Orleans.
“It goes back to the same thing,” he said. “How did a 6-year-old end up being in charge of six babies?”
Clean and healthy
So far, parents displaced by flooding have reported 220 children missing, and that number is expected to rise, said Mike Kenner of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which will help reunite families.
At the rescue headquarters, the children ate cafeteria food and fell into a deep sleep. Deamonte gave his address, his phone number and the name of his elementary school.
He said the 5-month-old was his brother, Darynael, and that two others were his cousins, Tyreek and Zoria. The other three lived in his apartment building.
The children were clean and healthy, said Joyce Miller, a nurse who examined them. It was clear, she said, that “time had been taken with those kids.” The baby was “fat and happy.”
False hope Thursday night, they got an encouraging report: A woman in a shelter in Thibodeaux was searching for seven children. People in the building started clapping at the news. But when they got the mother on the phone, it became clear that she was looking for a different group of seven children.
The children were transferred to a shelter operated by the Department of Social Services, rooms full of toys and cribs where mentors from the Big Buddy Program were on hand. For the next two days, the staff did detective work.
One of the 2-year-olds steadfastly refused to say her name until a worker took her picture with a digital camera and showed it to her. The little girl pointed at it and cried out, “Gabby!” One of the boys — with a halo of curly hair — had a G printed on his T-shirt when he arrived; when volunteers started calling him G, they noticed that he responded.
Deamonte began to give more details to Derrick Robertson, a 27-year-old Big Buddy mentor: How he saw his mother cry when he was loaded onto the helicopter. How he promised he’d take care of his brother.
Late Saturday night, they found Deamonte’s mother, who was in a shelter in San Antonio along with the four mothers of the other five children. Catrina Williams, 26, saw her children’s pictures on a Web site set up over the weekend by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. By Sunday, a private plane from Angel Flight was waiting to take the children to Texas.
In a phone interview, Williams said she is the kind of mother who doesn’t let her children out of her sight. What happened on Thursday, she said, was that her family, trapped in an apartment building, began to feel desperate.
The water wasn’t going down and they had been living without light, food or air conditioning for four days. The baby needed milk and the milk was gone. So she decided they would evacuate by helicopter. When a helicopter arrived to pick them up, they were told to send the children first and that the helicopter would be back in 25 minutes. She and her neighbors had to make a quick decision.
It was a wrenching moment. Williams’ father, Adrian Love, told her to send the children ahead.
“I told them to go ahead and give them up because me, I would give my life for my kids. They should feel the same way,” said Love, 48.
His daughter and her friends followed his advice.
“We did what we had to do for our kids because we love them,” Williams said.
The helicopter didn’t come back. While the children were transported to Baton Rouge, their parents wound up in San Antonio, and although Williams was reassured that they would be reunited, days passed without any contact. On Sunday, she was elated.
“All I know is, I just want to see my kids,” she said. “Everything else will just fall into place.”