The wheels on this bus went round and round until the driver needed to hop out and save a child from the cold.
Six months prior, when Denise Wilson began her bus driving job in Milwaukee County, she never thought she would find herself in a position to rescue a child from below freezing temperatures. Now, she’s just glad that she was in the right place at the right time.
One night in late January, while estimated temperatures were between 22 and 31 degrees Fahrenheit, Wilson was driving her usual route. As is common with public transit drivers, Wilson spends a lot of time behind the wheel and needs a break to stand and move about every so often. Although it was time for Wilson’s break, she claims she almost decided to skip it, saying “At first I thought I wasn’t going to stop. I’m just going to keep going to get the night done with, but then I was like ‘Oh, stop, stretch a little bit, get some air.’”
As she stopped, she noticed something unusual. “As I was securing the bus, I heard someone hollering,” Wilson said, “I heard someone crying and running up the street.” She realized that the sounds of distress were coming from a little boy wearing only a t-shirt, shorts, and socks, who was outside in the cold. Remembering how she felt in that moment, Wilson said, “It was shocking and a little frightening for me at first too.”
From the surveillance video, Wilson can be seen leaving the bus and returning with the shivering and crying five-year-old boy in her arms. “I picked him up because he just had his pajamas on and no shoes so I hurried and picked him up,” Wilson said. She asked him his name and where his parents were in hopes of helping him find his family. He let Wilson know that he was lost, and Wilson contacted the police so that they could get him back home.
While waiting for the police to arrive, Wilson made efforts to calm the five-year-old and keep him warm. “I tried to buy some snacks and calm him down and put him at ease. I asked him if he was still cold, and so I put my jacket around him and wrapped him up,” Wilson said, “wrapped him to get warm.” Wilson ended her shift early to wait with the child for the police to arrive. The boy took a seat on the bus near the front where Wilson could keep an eye on him, and he quickly fell asleep. “He ended up falling asleep on the bus,” Wilson said. “He ate his snack and fell asleep.”
The police arrived and were able to reunite him with his family. A statement by the Milwaukee County Transit System reiterated the police department’s perspective on the event, noting that “police say the boy wandered away from home and credit Denise for making sure a scary situation didn’t go from bad to worse.” Authorities also mentioned that the boy left his home by accident, and that “the whole thing was an innocent episode.”
Even with the impact she had on the child’s life and on the family’s life, Wilson isn’t ready to call herself a hero. She’d rather say that she was “just being there to help.” Perhaps, to the boy and his family, her “just being there” made all the difference.
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