ALTON (MCT) — A couple is upset their kindergartner son left school on his own this week, but is relieved an acquaintance discovered the boy and took him home.
"What if my friend had not seen him?" Jamie McElroy, 23, of Alton, asked about a former co-worker who discovered Darryl McElroy Jr., 5, hiding behind a car on Edsall Street on Wednesday morning after walking away from East Elementary School, 1035 Washington Ave.
"I'm very happy he is safe, thank God," she said. "They (the school) should be held accountable."
McElroy said the woman did not immediately recognize her son, as she had not seen Darryl Jr. in a year.
"She saw a little kid hiding behind a car and asked him, 'What's wrong, are you OK?' He said 'yes,' but he was scared because he was lost and there were dogs in the area," McElroy said. "He told her, 'My teacher said I could go home.' She opened his backpack, saw his name and said he looked familiar."
The woman's male friend had Darryl Jr. get in his car, and drove him about a block away to his home on Willard Avenue to the shock of his father, Darryl Sr., 25. Jamie McElroy was further frightened to think of her son getting in a stranger's car, about which she is lecturing him against.
When he heard the man knocking on the door, Darryl McElroy said he first thought he said he had his son's backpack. He opened the door to see the man standing there with Darryl Jr. about 11:20 a.m. Wednesday.
"I was shocked; I didn't know him," Darryl Sr. said. "He said, 'I have your son.' I didn't know him; my son doesn't know him.'"
He said the school never called him, and he took Darryl Jr. back to East to complain.
"They didn't know he was gone," he said.
Jamie McElroy was at work at the time. She said she believes her son walked north along Washington Avenue, turned east on Edwards Street and found his way south to Edsall, about a mile walk. She estimated he was gone 40 minutes before the woman found him.
The couple talked with Detective Mike O'Neil of the Alton Police Department — a school resource officer who also talked with the boy about what he did and strangers — personnel at East, Assistant Alton School District Superintendent Kristie Baumgartner and an investigator with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Baumgartner said she could not comment on the specific incident because of student confidentiality issues.
"After such incidents, we always review our policies and procedures," she said.
Jamie McElroy said a school official said East immediately would require every child to carry a hall pass when leaving class and younger students to be accompanied by an older pupil.
The couple, though, returned Darryl Jr. to school Thursday.
Jamie McElroy said Darryl Jr. had complained to a substitute teacher about having a stomach ache Wednesday morning, and he said he was not feeling up to going to recess. She said the boy went to the nurse's office, but the nurse was not in and the door was shut, so Darryl Jr. went back to his classroom.
Her son, though, fibbed and told the teacher the nurse said he could go home, with the substitute reportedly telling him to go to the office. Darryl Jr., though, got his coat and backpack and left school.
The McElroys said they have not been able to determine whether their son went out the front, main door that is monitored by a security camera, or through a side door.
Jamie McElroy said her son had a stomach ache and low-grade fever last Friday at school, and she heard there was a flu-like illness going around. Only two months into his first year at school, she said her son likes school, never before has left the premises or run away from home.
Pfc. Emily Hejna, public information officer at the Alton Police Department, said she only could confirm Jamie McElroy filed a report with O'Neill, and called the incident a "school matter."
Darryl Jr. fortunately was unharmed, despite his trek and riding with a stranger; his mother is stressing to him that it was the wrong thing to do. She also is reinforcing that he knows his address and telephone number.
Hejna advised parents to tell their children if they are lost or in danger to go to a business, hospital, fire station, police station or to flag down a police officer, and not get in a stranger's car.
"People should educate their children about dangers of talking to a stranger," she said.
Depending on the child's age, she said parents should come up with a code word that only people authorized to pick them up would know.
"It should be something they can remember," she said.
(c)2013 The Telegraph (Alton, Ill.) Distributed by MCT Information Services