“God, please let this child be alive,” Maryland Cpl. Darryl Wormuth whispered to himself when he spotted a toddler strapped in a car seat and locked inside a hot car on Tuesday.
The little girl wasn't moving.
"Her head was forward. She was either sleeping or had passed," an emotional Wormuth recalled during a news conference on Wednesday. "I could see her chest begin to rise. In this situation ... I had a minute to take a deep breath and figure out how I was going to handle the situation."
As he got closer, Wormuth noticed that the one-and-a-half year old was moving. He breathed a sigh of relief that he was able to get to her in time. The temperature inside the vehicle had reached 81 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Something just kept nagging at my mind."
According to state law, it's illegal to leave a child under the age of 8 unattended in a vehicle. And heat exposure is especially dangerous for kids.
"Because of their unique physiology, children are more susceptible to temperature extremes and their health effects. Children are less able to regulate their body temperature compared with adults," the American Academy of Pediatrics states on its website.
Hours earlier, the police officer discovered a man suspected of being under the influence lying face down in a grassy area of a parking lot outside of an apartment complex in Suitland. He called for backup and requested an emergency response team to aid the unresponsive man.
He spotted a lanyard around the man's neck that contained house keys and a car key fob. In an attempt to find documents that would identify the man, Wormuth pressed the panic button and listened for a horn — but nothing happened.
When help arrived, Wormuth helped pick up the man and escorted him to the hospital. But for some reason, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong.
“Something just kept nagging at my mind,” Wormuth recalled, according to a Prince George's County Police Department news release.
So, he went back to the scene and retraced his steps. It was there he found a car with one window rolled down and a toddler in the backseat.
He unbuckled her, placed her in the shade and contacted the apartment's property manager who then fed her chicken nuggets, fries and water.
"When I got there he was in, like, hero mode, taking care of this baby, making sure she was okay," building manager Latrice Leake said during a news conference. "He calmed her down. He kind of became her dad in that moment. She needed a dad — and he became that to her."
Wormuth added, "I started rubbing the child's arm slowly, gradually wake her up and of course she began to start crying," Wormuth said. "She slowly started breaking that cry down and I got a smile out of her."
The officer eventually found the man's cell phone inside the vehicle and saw there were dozens of missed calls and text messages from the child's grandmother. He was able to get in touch with her and the girl's mother and arranged for them to take the girl home.
The unresponsive man was later identified as the child's father, Wormuth said. He's since been charged with reckless endangerment and a related unattended child charge, the police department said in a statement online. Additional charges are pending, Wormuth added.