“I was on the seat in the back. I felt the bus moving away. I saw everybody, even Nathan on the ground as the bus went. When I turned around, no-one from my school was in the bus with me”. I remember my son’s words even to this day.
Chris Harris, five, was left in the public bus after the bus dropped off his brother (8), the staff and other children from Chapel Hill State School/After School Care.
Tomorrow, Chris will turn 16. Thanks to you, the Good Samaritan/ a stranger who helped Chris, find his way home.
It was in September 2004 in Brisbane City. We had migrated to Brisbane on July 13, 2004. As we were approaching Christmas, it would had been almost a year since the disappearance of Queensland boy Daniel James Morcombe and there was wide-spread publicity about him being missing. I was going through a difficult time, trying to settle into a new country without my extended family and my mother’s help with my sons.
The boys started school straight away and enjoyed it. They did better than I. In September, I was at work in Milton, near the city, and placed both boys at their school’s Holiday Care. A paid service run by the school. On that day, a trip to Southbank was organised so the children would be taken to the city to watch a movie. I understood at that time, there were three carers and 25 children. When the bus got to Southbank, a large amusement and entertainment park area, everyone got off the bus except for Chris. Chris is a very tall boy, even at age five. As a parent and an adult, I never understood how a responsible carer or teacher could not have done a head count of young children transported from one place to another. How did they not see Chris? None of the carers knew Chris was missing until they sat for the movie. His brother Nathan had started looking for him.
For Chris, after the initial shock of finding himself in the public bus all alone, and driven away, he said he searched in the faces of members of the public to “see who was nice”. Chris found a certain young man, he thought, “looked like” his uncle Kauc. Uncle Kauc is my brother. The bus stopped at the terminal in Myers Centre, Brisbane City. Apparently, Chris walked up to the stranger (that looked like my brother) and said; “excuse me, please help me. I am lost. My brother and other kids went off the bus as Southbank, it’s all my fault, I didn’t get off”.
According to Chris, the stranger said “Ok” and asked Chris to follow him. They walked out of the bus and through the crowds in the shopping centre, straight to the police station.
I asked Chris later if the man touched him and Chris said “No mum. He did not want to hold my hand. He told me to follow him”.
At the police station, Chris gave the police my name, number and address. Chris had memorised it, and police also found the contact details I wrote on Chris’ hat and bag. A call to the school and within a few hours, the Brisbane police brought my son back to Southbank to re-unite with his brother and the rest of the group. No-one called me.
After work that afternoon I walked to the school from the bus stop to pick up my sons. One of the carers came out to see me and told me about what had happened. Before she even finished the story I demanded to know where my children were. I called Chris over, checked his body, asked if he was Ok. When he said he was, I picked him up and hugged him and got his brother. I lifted Chris onto my shoulders and held Nathan’s hand as we walked home. I refused to speak with the carers or anyone before we left the school. I was outraged and terrified of what might have happened. I just wanted to get home. I wanted to just be with my sons. I walked and I wailed like a true Papua New Guinean woman for the five kilometres home. I remember people in our suburb coming out of their houses to see what was going on and just stared.
The next day I resigned from my job. I was afraid to leave the boys with anyone. It took me two whole weeks before I could speak to the school and the Holiday care people. We never really resolved the issue. I moved on.
This week at work one of my colleagues made a collection for Daniel Morcombe’s foundation, set up by Daniel’s parents to help other parents who have lost their children to evil people. Some parents have never found their children.
I am celebrating my son turning 16 tomorrow and I am truly grateful to God and the kind stranger who helped Chris find his way home, almost eleven years ago.