Cpl. Darryl Wormuth says something told him to go back.
The Prince George's County, Maryland, police officer had found a man lying face down in the grass near an apartment complex in Suitland, Maryland, on Tuesday around noon during his routine patrol. The man appeared to be under the influence and was conscious but could not speak, according to police.
Wormuth called an ambulance and went with emergency medics to drop the man off at a hospital. But three hours later, after his shift ended at around 3 p.m., Wormuth was drawn back to the apartment complex.
"Something was telling me to go back to this area," Wormuth said.
He returned to a troubling scene.
In a remote corner of the apartment complex parking lot near where he found the man in the grass, the officer came upon an SUV with toddler strapped in a car seat alone. The car was running, a window was down and the little girl's eyes were closed. It was a hot day and the 10-year member of the police department feared the worst.
"Please, God, let this child be alive," he recalled saying to himself.
It turns out the child, no more than 2 years old, was the daughter of the man Wormuth had escorted to the hospital. The man had no identification on him, was not speaking and never indicated he had a child. The officer had earlier used a key fob found around the man's neck to try to find his car, but after pressing the panic button several times in three different parking lots in the area, no vehicle responded.
It was only after Wormuth returned after his shift that he discovered music coming from a running SUV and saw the girl in the vehicle, her head leaning forward.
After getting closer, the officer was relieved to find the girl's little chest rising and falling. She was sleeping.
Wormuth roused the girl, rubbing her arm to try to soften her shock at waking to the face of a stranger. The girl burst into tears upon waking anyway. The officer quickly grabbed his phone to try to calm her down.
"Do you want to call Mommy?" Wormuth remembered asking, before he got a smile out of her.
Wormuth contacted an apartment property manager he had been speaking with earlier about the man in the grass and she returned to the parking lot with chicken nuggets and fries. Another officer arrived with a bottle of water, which the girl gulped down after being alone for almost four hours in the car, said Latrice Leake, the property manager.
"He was in hero mode," Leake said of watching Wormuth tend to the child. "He was awesome in that moment and just protected this little girl."
The child couldn't talk or say who her parents were. Wormuth found in the car a phone with more than 40 missed calls and texts and reached the girl's grandmother.
After reaching the girl's family, Wormuth and Leake tended to the toddler, who refused to be removed from her car seat. Chicken nugget sauce covered the girl's face and she watched videos of Wormuth's dogs on his phone, smiling and blowing kisses at the screen.
Then the girl's mother arrived.
"She immediately jumped out of the vehicle, walked to our location and just began crying," Wormuth said.
The girl, who was safe and unharmed, went home with her family.
The father, whom police did not name to protect the identity of the child, has been charged with reckless endangerment and a related count of leaving a child unattended, police said.
Story by Lynh Bui. Bui is a local reporter covering Prince George's County police, fire and courts. She joined The Washington Post in 2012 and has previously covered Montgomery County education.