On a warm morning last summer, California bus driver Tim Watson was about halfway through his daily 15-mile express route from Milpitas to Fremont when an alert from the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) flashed across his dashboard screen. A toddler had been kidnapped in Milpitas, the message read, and it asked that drivers be on the lookout for the boy.
The victim was described as a three-year-old child in plaid shorts and red shoes; the suspect, a man in his 20s wearing jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt and carrying a tan backpack. Tim felt his stomach drop when he realized that a man with a toddler on his hip had boarded the bus just ten minutes earlier. Tim distinctly remembered the boy’s plaid shorts.
Tim glanced in one of his mirrors and saw the pair sitting in the last seat at the back of the nearly empty bus. Before alerting authorities, he wanted to confirm their identities. Pulling into a McDonald’s parking lot, he announced that he needed to look for a lost bag. He moved slowly down the aisle, peering under each seat, until he approached the last row. As he bent down, Tim avoided eye contact with the man. “I saw the boy’s red shoes,” says Tim. “But I knew I had to keep cool.”
“I believe I have the kidnapping suspect on my bus,” Tim told the operator, keeping his voice low.
Back behind the wheel, Tim apologized for the delay and pulled the bus onto the highway. Not wanting to arouse suspicion, he waited a few minutes, then radioed the bus dispatcher. “I believe I have the kidnapping suspect on my bus,” he told the operator, keeping his voice low.
The dispatcher directed Tim to continue to his final stop at the Fremont BART subway station, where police officers would be waiting. “As I’m driving, all I can think about is what I’m going to do if I get there before the police,” he says. So he slowed down, rolling along at 35 mph in a 65 mph zone.
As Tim was about to make the last turn into the BART parking lot, he saw from the side mirrors police cruisers pull up behind the bus silently but with red lights flashing. “The bus doesn’t have a back window, so the guy had no idea they were there,” says Tim.
He stopped the bus and opened the doors. In his right side mirror, Tim could see four cops waiting for the suspect with their hands on their holsters. As the man got off the bus with the boy, a police officer grabbed the child out of his arms, threw the suspect to the ground, and handcuffed him behind his back.
The police officers told Tim that about an hour earlier, the man, Alfonso David Edington, 23, had snatched the boy from the Milpitas library after he wandered away from his mother.
Tim thought about his own sons, ages 17 and 21. “I went back in the bus alone and broke down,” he says. Then he climbed out again to check that the boy was OK. Tim found him sitting calmly in the front seat of a squad car, without a tear in sight. “I just smiled at him,” Tim says. “I knew he was safe.”
Edington was charged with felony kidnapping and faces up to 11 years in prison.
A few weeks after the incident, Tim received a certificate of recognition from the VTA Board of Directors, the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors, and the city of Milpitas, as well as a congressional resolution from Congressman Eric Swalwell. Still, Tim is humble about his actions.
“I try to teach my kids to look out for people who can’t defend themselves,” he says. “And that’s what I did.”