HOUSTON — An 18-month-old toddler was found safe in Houston early Friday about a block away from a Walmart parking lot where his mother's idling SUV had been stolen with him strapped into the back seat some 15 hours earlier.
Police and spectators cheered and applauded at the sight of Evan Montgomery Lamar Miller in his mother's arms as she got into an ambulance shortly after the boy was pulled unharmed from the abandoned car, according to television reports.
Houston police spokesman Kese Smith said the boy was taken to the hospital for a checkup.
Evan's mother left the 1996 Jeep Cherokee running around 5:45 p.m. Thursday when she ran into the Walmart to withdraw money from an ATM, Houston police said. The boy's 7-year-old cousin was in the car with him when a man got in and started driving off. The girl jumped out of the car.
Evan was found at the back of a strip mall less than a half-mile from the Walmart, Smith said. The reason they weren't able to find him right away is because the car was parked behind a restaurant in a wooded area. The high foliage made it difficult to spot the car, even from the air.
"It really took daylight coming up for the vehicle to be seen," Smith said.
The drama unfolded quickly Thursday evening when Niah O'Neil told KHOU TV she came out of the Walmart and saw her niece screaming.
"As I'm running out, I saw my niece running toward me screaming my name and my car going down the road. I dropped everything and ran toward the car," O'Neil said. She said she had left the children in the car because it was cold outside and she wanted them to be in the warm car while she quickly ran into the store.
As the night wore on and temperatures reached abnormal lows, police tweeted pictures of the toddler and details of the Amber Alert, calling on Houstonians to look out for the missing vehicle and the chubby cheeked boy.
By Friday morning, road signs flashed details of the Amber Alert and the car. Newscasts focused almost exclusively on the missing child. Friday is the 16th anniversary of the abduction in Arlington, Texas, of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, for whom the Amber Alert system was named. She was eventually found murdered.
Smith said it appeared to have been a random car theft and that it wasn't clear if the man even realized he was also taking a small child. No arrests have been made in the case.
Associated Press writer Diana Heidgerd contributed to this report from Dallas.