As a staff member at Oklahoma's Department of Human Services, Mary Leaver is accustomed to hearing sad stories about mistreated children. Dealing with painful tales of beaten, abused or abandoned children is part of daily life at DHS. But Leaver said she can't recall anything like what transpired Friday in Oklahoma City, when a 3-year-old boy was abandoned by a suspected shoplifter at a Wal-Mart store. Ordinarily, relatives come forward quickly to claim a lost child, Leaver said, but in this case, police and DHS officials were unable to identify the boy for five days. Late Wednesday afternoon, after intense media coverage, that finally changed. Three of the boy's relatives identified him at Oklahoma City police headquarters, police Master Sgt. Gary Knight said. The relatives, three women, told The Oklahoman the boy's name is Bryan Allen. They also said the man who abandoned the boy is not his father. The women said they were unaware of Bryan's situation until a friend, who saw a media report, called to alert them. Meanwhile, a woman who identified herself as the child's mother contacted DHS on Wednesday too, Leaver said. That woman was being interviewed by a child welfare worker the same night. Knight said the child remained in DHS custody early Wednesday evening, and also said it was unclear if or when Bryan would be returned to family members.
What happenedAbout 1:20 p.m. Friday, security personnel at the Wal-Mart at 6100 W Reno Ave. approached a man they thought was shoplifting, a police report says. When they confronted the man, he ran, leaving the boy behind. The man — described by Knight as a bald black man in his late 20s or early 30s, about 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, wearing a blue shirt, dark blue jeans, white shoes and a large necklace or chain — has not been captured or identified. Wal-Mart security video shows the man calmly pushing Bryan through the store in a shopping cart and entering the lawn and garden section, where he exited the store before being stopped by security personnel. The man last was seen on the property of the Dolese Brothers Co., 5600 W Reno Ave., according to the report. Police officers and a K-9 unit searched the area for the man but never found him. The man was attempting to steal clothing, including pants, overalls and jeans, the report notes. Oklahoma City police Capt. Steve McCool said he does not believe the man successfully stole any items from the store. McCool said he decided Tuesday to issue a news release Wednesday morning in hopes that media attention could help identify the boy. "In the norm when these things happen, it's a very short period of time and Mom or somebody else is showing up, saying, ‘I need to pick up my child,'” McCool said.
DHS ‘in shock'Leaver said DHS employees were "in shock” after initial attempts to identify the boy failed. "It's heartbreaking for (case workers),” she said. "They take a lot of this home with them, obviously. It's not something you can just leave at the office. It ... breaks their hearts when something like this happens to a child because they've devoted their lives to try and help children and their families. To see something like this happen, it just tears them up.” George Johnson, DHS communications director, said 3.7 percent of the department's cases deal with abandoned children, but most are cases in which a child simply was separated from his or her parents. "Never has one been abandoned during an alleged commission of a crime,” he said. Leaver said cases where DHS takes custody of a child that cannot be identified are extremely rare. "It happens so infrequently that they don't even keep statistics on it,” she said.