Their daughter Sophia arrived in December 2010. Sophia is a quiet little girl with big slate blue coloured eyes and a pale complexion. She has beautiful wispy light brown curly hair. The kind that a pensioner might like to ‘steal a curl from’.
Sophia had started school in September 2015 and although she was settling in, the transition from being at home with mummy hadn’t been easy for her. That was just one of the reasons that they had decided to consider a family holiday during the Christmas break.
It had been over five years since Helen and Sandy last went away on holiday together. Back then they hired out a caravan in Devon. Helen and Sandy agreed that a holiday might benefit the three of them and decided on somewhere warm and sunny; Gran Canarias.
The weeks leading up to their holiday were filled with both excitement and worry for Helen. Though she was looking forward to the break, the couple had never travelled with Sophia before and knew that the combination of Christmas and airports meant busy environments and lots of chaos.
Helen’s concerns are those shared by many parents; the risks when travelling and staying in a foreign country with young children. The whole issue of medical treatment abroad was also at the back of Helen’s mind as Sophia has asthma.
Helen had discussed her worries with her close friend Denise some weeks before who’d calmed her saying “You’ll be fine. You’ll all have a great time. Just go and enjoy yourselves. You all deserve it.”
Helen remembered considering herself overly anxious due to not having travelled for some time and convinced herself to relax a little and try to enjoy the process of preparing for their trip.
A few days later Denise paid Helen an unexpected visit and gave her a child ID bracelet that she’d bought for her son to use on their annual holidays. Other than being green camouflage print it was ideal; a simple Velcro fastening band with a waterproof ID card inserted inside.
Denise explained to Helen how to update the unique ID code on the reverse of the ID card and gave her the You ID Me password for doing so.
She also suggested possibly ordering clothing name tags for Sophia which Helen did. But the package never came and replacements arrived on the morning they were travelling; there was no time to stitch them onto Sophia’s garments. Lucky Helen had that wristband. The following are Helen’s own words…
We got off the airport shuttle bus and entered the main terminal. It was so incredibly busy, it made me feel dizzy for a few moments. Sandy was pushing the suitcase trolley. Even though he was just ahead of me, people were still weaving between us. I had Sophia’s hand tightly clutched and a bag over my shoulder containing all our travel documents.
Sophia said she needed the toilet. I told her I would take her just as soon as we found the right check in desk queue. Sandy checked the display board to see which number desk and we headed round the back of all the long queues to desk 22.
Sandy quarter-turned his head and cheerfully teased: “You definitely got the passports Love?” For a split second I panicked? I don’t know why. I’d checked before we left the house. I just instantly thrust down my hand to feel for my bag. And then said aloud “Wait! Let me check again!”
As I pulled my bag round to the front I heard a loud shriek, from a woman. Sandy had accidentally caught a woman’s ankle with one of the front wheels of the suitcase trolley. He apologised but she couldn’t hear for her own cursing. Her ankle bled. She was clearly in a lot of pain. I felt bad for him and for her too.
Knowing Sandy is fully capable of good manners and heartfelt apologies I returned to my bag. Could see our travel documents, still there where they were when I last checked them. I zipped up the pouch and reached for Sophia’s hand again. “Come on Chicken” I said. But Sophia wasn’t there.
The rush of dread was immediate. My heart just stopped and panic flooded through me; my mouth dry; instant confusion; my eyes everywhere. “Sophia?” I called her name again. My heart began racing.
“Oh my God no!” I said. I could feel my body temperature quickly increasing. I was sweating and terrified. My poor beautiful little Sophia was just holding my hand and is now a million miles from me.
I turned full circle desperately trying to catch a glimpse of her. Everyone was moving. Everyone in the way. Sophia!? I called her name. I called to Sandy “Sandy. Where’s Sophia?” Sandy broke away from the lady to whom he’d been apologising.
“Sophia! Sophia?” We howled. She was nowhere to be seen. We began bellowing her name at the top of our lungs. A middle aged woman stopped as she passed by me saying “Oh my God have you lost your daughter?” “Yes I said.” I began to cry. “She was right here.” I panicked. “SOPHIA!?” How would we ever find her in this chaotic hell hole?
Before long we were surrounded by a handful of well-meaning helpers, mainly female. But explaining to them what had happened seemed like we were wasting time. I felt irresponsible and I just wanted Sophia back. The loss was consuming me by the second.
The first kind lady said to me “She can’t be far. Come with me. There is the information desk. They’ll help find your daughter.” She turned to the person she was with saying “wait here with the bags”. My tears were filling the room with more people.
The environment seemed to become noisier. I’m looking all over for her as I was guided by the arm by the lady. I lost sight of Sandy as he was attempting to turn the trolley to follow us to the help desk. At the helpdesk I cried “My daughter has gone missing.”
The clerk asked questions about Sophia and asked if I had a photograph. I reached for my phone in order to search my gallery for a recent photo. I notice an emergency SMS Alert on the screensaver and Sophia’s name was jumping out of the text at me. “One second…” I said to the clerk. I opened the SMS and read it semi-aloud.
The SMS had been sent by “You ID Me”. I had to think for a moment and then I remembered that this was in relation to the wristband Denise had given to me. The text message was telling me that Sophia’s wristband profile had been accessed.
“Sophia’s wristband has been accessed!” I said aloud. I filled with hope. “Her wristband…” I repeated, “It sends a text if anyone accesses her profile… I’ve just had a text. Someone has her.” The clerk was radioing through to security who showed in seconds. I showed Sophia’s photo and the SMS text to the security officer. He took great care to understand as I explained how it worked.
Just then the screen changed – notifying me of a call from an unknown number. With one finger in my left ear I answered. A female voice enquired: “Hello? Is that Helen? Is that Sophia’s mum? I have your daughter with me. I found her crying in the toilets.”