Trevor Paulhus for reader's digest
It was a scene Norman Rockwell might have painted: three kids laughing as they took turns riding a scooter on their quiet street. Last December, on a crisp Saturday afternoon in Wichita Falls, Texas, 11-year-old TJ Smith had just jumped off the scooter as his neighbor Kim,* age 7, claimed her turn, and her sister Julie,* 9, looked on. Kim straddled the scooter and paused to catch her breath. That was when a bearded man with a head of messy curls appeared. The kids didn’t see where he came from, but they know exactly what happened next: Without uttering a word, he picked Kim up off the scooter and calmly strode away.
“He cradled her like a baby and just walked down the street,” says TJ. In fact, the composed way the man held Kim led TJ to believe he must have been a relative. But something wasn’t right. “I could see her face,” TJ said. “She was scared.” Read this other inspiring story about a foiled kidnapping.
Kim’s fear escalated into sobs, then pleas for help. She began kicking and flailing, trying to get free of the man’s grip. “What are you doing?” Julie shouted. But the man, unfazed, walked the length of the block until he reached an alley and disappeared.
Though he admits he was scared, TJ says he never thought about the danger to himself.
TJ’s first impulse was to chase after them. But what was a 4-foot-tall, 70-pound kid going to do to stop a grown man? “I wanted to help, but I couldn’t do it myself,” he says. So he ran to his grown-up neighbors’ home.
Brad Ware and his wife were relaxing on the couch in their living room when their front door burst open.
“Brad!” yelled TJ. “A man just picked up a little girl and took her into the alley!”
And just like that, TJ was gone, back on the street sprinting after his abducted little friend. “I ran back to where I saw him take her to see if they were still there,” says TJ. Ware and his wife jumped into their car and trailed close behind.
TJ ran to the end of the street and turned the corner. He had no idea what to expect or who might be waiting for him. But he needed to find Kim. If he lost her, TJ feared, she might never be found alive.
Once TJ hit the alley, he spotted the man a couple of blocks down, standing in front of an abandoned white house—its windows busted, doors boarded up, and yard overgrown. He was shoving the panicked girl through a window. These other unsung heroes will restore your faith in humanity.
Just then, Ware and his wife pulled up. “Stay here,” Ware told TJ as he took off toward the house. With Ware now bearing down on him, the man let go of Kim in the window frame and walked away, almost nonchalantly, before breaking into a run. Ware caught up with him. They struggled. Ware kicked the man in the groin and wrapped him in his arms. The man squirmed free and fled across the street. When he stumbled, Ware lunged and tackled him.
Alerted by Julie and other neighbors, the police and the victim’s mother had arrived on the scene. Kim dashed into the safety of her mother’s arms, and the two cried and hugged.
Meanwhile, officers cuffed and arrested Raeshawn Perez, 26. He was charged with aggravated kidnapping and was being held on $50,000 bond as this article went to press.
There were a few heroes that day, but Ware insists that the quick-thinking, dogged 11-year-old deserves most of the credit. “You know, he’s the one who more or less saved the girl,” Ware told KFDX.
That news came as no surprise to TJ’s mother. “This is exactly his character,” says Angie Hess Smith. “His first thought is not of himself. It’s always of others.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.