“I want you up there, too.” He used his thumbs to wipe away the tears that fell down my cheeks.
I nodded my head and let him pull me to my feet as we went to Alice’s office to go over what would be said and done. She asked us for a couple of recent photos of Chris and we both sent her several from our phones.
Another hour later, five after Chris had been taken, Jared and I were standing behind Alice as she spoke in front of the media. It was ironic, honestly, because we were standing in the same spot I had when we’d done the first conference asking for information on Angela. It was different this time, though.
We were begging.
After giving a brief overview and history, Alice gave descriptions of Angela and Chris as well as the information regarding the car the surveillance cameras had seen her getting into. When she was done, she glanced back at us.
“Jared Hart, Christopher’s father, and Stephanie Gibson, a close family friend and the social worker who found Christopher in January, would like to make a statement.”
Jared’s hand was crushing mine, or maybe I was crushing his, and we stepped forward to the podium together. I glanced around and had to stifle a sob when I realized that pictures were up on the screen behind us. Angela’s mugshot, the photo of her getting into the car with Chris, and three photos of Chris, two of him by himself and one of all three of us, were enlarged for the public to see.
“Please,” Jared was saying into the microphones. “Please help us find our son. He’s probably scared and confused, which is not normal for the happiest kid in the world. Angela, if you’re watching this, please bring him back. If anyone has information to where we can find him, don’t hesitate to call.”
Tears continued falling down my cheeks as I cleared my throat. “Please don’t hurt him. Please bring him home. He needs to be home.”
I didn’t say anything else and Jared tugged me to his chest as we stepped back. Alice moved back to the podium and spoke again before wrapping up the press conference. Once we were off the stage, she hugged us both and took us back to the phone bank. About twenty phones were spread out amongst a few conference tables and most of them were in use.
“Tips are going to be rolling in and we’ll work every single one. I promise.”
And they did. Jared and I watched people answer the phones for about an hour before we were sent back into the small break room with food. Neither of us ate, though. As our phones rang, we let Valerie and Kevin answer them for us, just in case. I wasn’t sure I could formulate a conversation anyway.
It was just before seven and Chris had been gone for almost eight hours when several people came in the little break room and whispered to Val and Kevin. They both glanced at us before moving to their feet and I could tell… They knew something.
“Did they find him?” I asked, pushing to my feet, too.
“We think so.” Kevin shook his head. “We don’t know for sure but we’re going to go check it out.”
Jared stood up next to me. “We’re coming with you.”
I knew they were going to deny us so I shook my head before they could.
“Please. We’ll stay in the car. Let us come.”
Alice had entered the room and she nodded once. “Let them come. We need to move now.”
Quite a few people rushed out to the parking lot and Jared and I got into the backseat of the sedan Kevin was driving. Valerie turned in her seat to look at us as we drove through the streets with lights and sirens blaring.
“There’s an abandoned house off Van Buren that the car is parked in front of,” she explained over the noise. “They’re trying to make contact with whoever is inside right now.”
“Oh, god.” I closed my eyes and crushed Jared’s fingers as we drove. He pressed a kiss to my shoulder but didn’t say anything else.
The car pulled up into a part of the neighborhood that had been barricaded off. Several police cars were in the street and an ambulance was just pulling up. Different officers had guns drawn as they surrounded the house and both detectives turned to look at us.
“Stay in the car,” Valerie instructed as she pushed open her door. Kevin nodded in agreement and did the same. Both of them went to where their commander was coordinating with someone and the car was quiet as we watched.
The house looked like it had been condemned. Most of the windows were broken and had sheets of plywood covering them. The wood was obviously rotting and the thought that Christopher could be in there made my stomach hurt.
“He’s okay, right?” I asked Jared, turning so I could look at him. His green eyes met mine and he nodded as he pulled me to his side.
“He’s fine. In just a few minutes, we’re going to have our baby with us and this will all be over.”
Five minutes later, officers stormed the house, causing me to gasp. Jared leaned forward and we waited. And waited. And waited.
It felt like an hour went by before officers started to exit the dilapidated home. Without thinking, I pushed open my door at the same time Jared did. We were both standing at the front of the hood when a man was brought out, his hands restrained behind his back. A moment later, Angela was led out in the same manner. Her eyes found where Jared and I were clinging together and she scowled. My gaze didn’t stay on her, though. I inhaled a sharp breath when another officer appeared in the doorway.
He had a crying baby in his arms. His little face was red as he screamed, desperately looking around for anything familiar. His torso was bare, lacking the dinosaur onesie I’d put on him that morning, and a flimsy receiving blanket was wrapped around his waist. Jared and I rushed towards him at the same time but an officer tried to stop both of us from getting too close.
“That’s our son,” Jared growled and I just shook my head quickly.
“Let us through. Please.”
“Let them in,” Alice yelled from where she was holstering her gun. “They’re his parents.”
The officer dropped his hands and we surged forward again, meeting the other officer holding the baby in the front yard. Chris did a double take when he caught sight of both of us and his crying increased immediately.
“Christopher.” Jared pulled him into his arms and I stifled a sob as I wrapped my own around them both. Chris buried his face into his father’s shoulder, babbling angrily while crying at the same time, and I couldn’t stop the hysterical laughter that bubbled in my throat.
“You’re okay, sweet boy. You’re okay.”
Kevin appeared in front of us with a grin. “He looks okay but we want to take him in the ambulance to get checked out anyway.”
I threw my arms around him and then Valerie before pulling back so I could wipe my face.
“Thank you both. I can’t…”
My words trailed off as commotion came from where they were putting Angela in the back of a police cruiser. She had fallen to the ground and one of the officers was waving over the EMTs frantically. I watched as they hovered over her, trying to figure out what was wrong, and the officer did something to remove her restraints so they could lay her flat.
Suddenly, Angela was on her feet, quicker than I would have thought possible. She grabbed for the gun in the officer’s holster, meeting little resistance because he was so shocked. She pointed it directly at where I was standing with Kevin and Valerie, a snarl on her lips.
“You’re not his mom!” she screamed and a loud bang could be heard before several others followed immediately. I watched as bullets hit Angela in the chest, causing her to stumble back before falling to the ground again. An officer kicked the gun away as he approached her, still pointing his at her.
Jared’s voice broke me out of my shocked daze and I turned to look at him, confused for a moment at his panicked face. That’s when I realized that something warm was running down my stomach. I looked down and saw blood soaking the bottom, right side of my pink blouse. I covered the spot with my hand and stared at it curiously for a second. Suddenly, pain registered in my nerves and I felt lightheaded as my body swayed.
Someone, I think Kevin, caught me as I fell to the ground. Jared’s face appeared over me, Chris still screaming in his arms. I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying but I could see their horrified expressions.