The six-year-old was reported missing from his home in Miami at the end of August after his father failed to return him to his mother in accordance with a court time-sharing order. On Oct. 28, the FBI said the missing child may be in Eastern Canada.
He was found safe and sound two days later at the Moncton West Supercentre after a customer spotted him and approached a staff member to say they believed the boy was inside the store.
The boy’s father, who was wanted in connection with the alleged abduction, was arrested at the store. The boy’s paternal grandmother, who police were also looking for, was arrested without incident on Village-Des-Cormier Road in Saint-Paul.
On Wednesday, the RCMP presented the Moncton Walmart associates with certificates for exceptional community service.
Supt. Benoît Jolette, who presented the certificates, said they are usually for RCMP staff members, but the employees’ actions on Oct. 30 warranted the recognition.
“We had to recognize the employees here at Walmart, just for the job that they did, in keeping the family here, and the young boy, until we got here,” he said.
“Without their actions, that young boy could still be out there somewhere.”
Jolette said upon learning the missing boy and his father were in the store, a staff member immediately called the police, while other employees stalled them until police arrived.
From there, the boy’s father was taken into custody and officers took care of the child for a few hours at the Codiac RCMP detachment, until social development staff could arrive and help organize his return to the U.S.
Ajay Gabani, who works as a customer service manager at the Walmart, said he was working that day when a customer approached him to report the missing child.
Gabani identified them and informed his manager, who called the police. Meanwhile, he and other staff kept an eye on the pair and stalled them until police arrived.
Gabani said he was happy to have played a part in reuniting the boy with his mother.
“That feeling is amazing. I cannot describe it,” he said. “I was so nervous, but at the end of the day, it was the right thing to do.”
Gabani, who is new to Canada and moved to Moncton last July, said the recognition meant a lot to him.
“It’s so overwhelming, getting recognized.… I feel more welcome.”
‘Teamwork all around’
Assistant manager Michele Lewis, who kept an eye on the man and called the police while employees stalled him, said she was proud of the work her team did.
She said she had previously seen the boy’s mother on television pleading for the safe return of her son, and it was “very surreal” to help get him home.
“I knew for the safety of the customers and the associates that it was the right thing to do,” she said.
“Teamwork all around.”
— with files from Suzanne Lapointe