Officer who saved 7-year-old meets him again 14 years later

RESCUER, RESCUED REUNITE

July 11, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

On a hot July night in 1978, 7-year-old Stefan Shilgalis of Laurel was kidnapped from Memorial Stadium by a child molester.

He was led through a dark alley to the back yard of a nearby home, where the man told him not to scream.

It was then that an off-duty city police detective, Eugene Constantine, then 35, rushed to his rescue, overpowering the man. As the officer dragged the kidnapper, Jimmy Lee Brown, back toward the street, the child clung to the officer's legs and cried to be taken back to his father.

Fourteen years later, Stefan Shilgalis, now 21 and living in Burlington, Vt., returned to Baltimore to see another Orioles game -- and the police officer, now a homicide detective, rushed to Oriole Park at Camden Yards last night to meet him.

Mr. Shilgalis, a recent graduate of the University of Vermont, was traveling through Baltimore with his family yesterday on his way to a vacation in North Carolina.

Detective Constantine, who went directly from work, seemed to be the only man at the ballpark with a suit and tie on.

And when he saw Mr. Shilgalis, whose family has kept in touch with the officer through letters for the past 12 years, he asked, "Do I look any different?"

"You look the same to me," Mr. Shilgalis said, as they hugged.

They met at the ballpark last night for about a half-hour "just to see each other again and remember what happened. You always think as a police officer that nobody cares what you've done. But this guy has always remembered. That's really something," Detective Constantine said.

On that July day in 1978, Detective Constantine had taken his own two sons to Memorial Stadium to see an Orioles-Red Sox game when he saw young Shilgalis being led out of the ballpark by Brown, who had the boy by the hand.

"Something just didn't look right. The kid looked scared. I knew something was wrong," Detective Constantine recalled.

Mr. Shilgalis said the kidnapper grabbed him at a hot-dog stand.

"He just said to me, 'Let's go outside.' I was really scared. I didn't know what to do," he said.

Brown had a previous record for sex offenses. Detective Constantine, knowing only at that moment that a child appeared to be in trouble, left his children at the police command post at the ballpark and rushed outside.

An officer on the street said he had just seen Brown walk past him, Detective Constantine recalled.

"I ran into an alley, and then into the back yard of this house. The boy was crying, and I grabbed him [Brown,]" said Detective Constantine, who was then a burglary detective.

The story was widely followed in local newspapers. The boy was never identified in the stories, and Brown got 20 years for the crime.

Fourteen years later, Mr. Shilgalis said he's glad to come forward and talk to reporters about the incident.

Detective Constantine "deserves it. I feel like he gave me a second lease on life," said Mr. Shilgalis.

Last night was also a special occasion for Mr. Shilgalis' father, John Shilgalis, who for the past 14 years has written to Detective Constantine to keep him abreast of his son's life. From time to time, he has even sent pictures.

In his most recent letter June 21, John Shilgalis invited the detective to meet Stefan at the new ballpark. John Shilgalis and his wife, Karen, made the trip as part of a celebration of their upcoming 25th anniversary.

"He's part yours, you know," John Shilgalis wrote to the detective, referring to Stefan. "It'll be 14 years, almost to the day, that you rescued Stefan. It was right before his eighth birthday."

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