A boy lost, and found

Child, 3, returned home after wandering in city

July 10, 2008|By Nick Madigan and Brent Jones | Nick Madigan and Brent Jones,Sun Reporters

Ricky Ratliff couldn't believe his eyes.

Standing on a corner near his West Baltimore home was a little boy, maybe 2 years old, in pajamas and flip-flops. There was no one else in sight, and the child looked as though he was about to amble across the street.

"It was really crazy," Ratliff recalled yesterday morning, a day after he saw the boy at West Lanvale Street and North Warwick Avenue. "Who let this kid out here? He looked like a little kid looking for his mom."

Ratliff, a 53-year-old commercial artist, said he walked up to the boy, later identified as Nazaiah Johnson, and asked him, "Hey, little man, where's your mother at?"

The boy pointed down the street in one direction and then in the other, evidently at a loss, and was unable to say his name, Ratliff said. "He stuck his hand out at me, so I took it and walked up the street with him, trying to find his parents."

Their search fruitless, Ratliff called police. About eight hours later, on Tuesday afternoon, after the boy's photograph had been released to the news media, Nazaiah's parents contacted authorities and identified themselves, according to Elyn Jones, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources, which oversees child-care issues.

Last night, Nazaiah's parents said they left him with a friend of the mother. Tynisa Leach said she and the boy's father, Brian Johnson, both had to work, and they agreed to let the child stay overnight with Leach's friend.

They found out he was missing late Tuesday night and picked the boy up from Child Protective Services yesterday morning.

"That was the first time he ever stayed overnight, so I guess when he woke up and didn't see me, he got scared and did what was natural, and that was to open the door," Leach, 32, said.

The parents said they did not get much sleep Tuesday night, frightened that they would be blamed for the child being unattended.

"I was worried that they would think it was our fault," Johnson said. "I was worried that we weren't going to get him back until the investigation was complete. But we called the emergency foster care people, and it wasn't no problem getting him back. He looked well taken care of."

Jones said residents who had seen the boy's picture on television called the parents and child-care authorities. She said it was the "swift response of the community" that prompted the family's reunion. It occurred yesterday after investigators had determined that it was safe to transfer custody of the child from a foster home, where he had spent the night, back to his parents.

Investigators are still checking the parents' assertion that the child was not in their care at the time of his disappearance, but was being watched by a baby sitter in the neighborhood where he was found.

"He's fine, he's healthy, and he's of course happy to be with his parents," Jones said of the boy. "We were comfortable handing him over."

Ratliff, who also plays bass guitar in a church band, was speaking with a reporter yesterday when word came that the child had been reunited with his parents.

Ratliff, a 20-year resident of the neighborhood whose coffee table held several toy cars, said that finding the boy was "the best thing that happened" to him on a day when he missed several appointments in his role as an airbrush artist because of the boy's plight.

"Little men should not be left alone on the street," Ratliff said. "He was such a nice little boy. He never cried."

The word around the neighborhood Tuesday was that a child was missing, not that a set of parents were. "It was an upset around here, especially for the younger kids," said Kila Faulkner, whose family has lived in the area for half a century. "They were really upset, because they know pretty much all the kids in the neighborhood. They sit out in front - they know what's going on."

nick madigan@baltsun.com

brent. jones@ baltsun.com

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