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BPD 2023 Citizens of the Year recall aiding lost little boy

By Paula Pyzik Scott

On Easter 2023, Makayla White, Ryan DeMarco and Teri Steinmetz aided a little boy who was lost on South Main St. But the circumstances were unusual. The little fellow refused to speak and was inconsolable. DeMarco hailed a passing Bluffton Police Department cruiser and Officer Abby Michael came to their assistance.

But the story doesn’t end there. The process of identifying the boy and reuniting him with his family was complicated by a language barrier. The four proceeded to work together to comfort the child and to determine where he had come from. Here’s how the three newly honored Bluffton Police Department 2023 Citizens of the Year describe what unfolded:

Have you ever been called on to do something like this before? DeMarco begins, “I think it has to do with my military training and how I was raised, when somebody is in need, you just help them. When Mykala came up to the porch [asking for additional help], I jumped up and took off running.”

White picks up the thread, “That’s what kicked in for me, it was ‘that doesn’t look right’… He looked too young to be wandering by.” And then she thought “I need help” and went to a nearby house where the Steinmetz family and friends were celebrating Easter. At first Steinmetz was enlisted to help because her husband said “you know all the kids in Bluffton!”

Initially the little boy, who seemed to be between three and five years old, wouldn’t talk, but he let Ryan hold him. Even with his arms full, DeMarco managed to flag down Officer Abby Michael.

Steinmetz notes that it felt a little strange to not step back when the police arrived, but that Officer Michael realized putting the child in the police car would make him even more uncomfortable. The group soon had a blanket and snacks for the little boy.

Because the boy wasn’t saying anything, they did not immediately realize that he didn’t speak English. “He was looking at us like we were speaking a foreign language, literally!” marvels White. 

Could technology help these helpers? Google translate was not much of a success, when the group guessed the boy could be speaking Russian. However, a post to the Bluffton Buzz on Facebook received a response that the English Lutheran Church on Grove St. was hosting a Ukrainian Easter service. A caller was able to speak to the boy in his own language, which helped to relax him.

As a result, the boy was soon reunited with his father, who arrived with a translator. The trio of rescuers describe the boy as “joyful” and “instantly relieved.” 

Michael later told Steinmetz how much she appreciated their assistance. The officer explained to the Icon: “it’s not typical for those people [who call for assistance] to stick around to help me help them…. A lot of people are afraid of getting too involved, afraid of doing the wrong thing.”

Michael says that at the end of every year Bluffton officers each nominate an officer of the year and a citizen of the year. She says that the response of these three individuals to a lost child stood out because “there was no hesitation, it was just really incredible. It was the best case scenario. He was already crying and cold.” Michael knew that putting him in a police car was not the right next step and that she still needed their assistance.

When the three good Samaritans received calls notifying them of the Bluffton Police Department award, they were surprised. White even hung up on Michael, thinking it was a prank call.

It has been a year since this incident happened, but the details and emotions were still vivid for all four during the retelling. The magic of the moment is perhaps how well these four–friends and neighbors, and in the case of White and Steinmetz, former student and teacher, and Officer Michael–worked together to create a happy ending to a little boy’s nightmare.