It was a morning like any other late last month at Seminole Elementary School when a father walked in to register his little boy. Another day, another new student.
But within hours, an ordinary work day transformed into an above-and-beyond effort to reunite a family.
School workers quickly recognized something was very wrong about the dad who brought his son to school. Soon, men and women whom 6-year-old Alex Wilder had never met were working overtime for him and his sister, Jessica.
With quick catches, long memories and clues hidden in court records, they were able to return the children to the mother who had not seen them in a year and thought she had lost them for good.
"We're in this business because we love kids," said Kim Griffith, 37, a campus police investigator for Pinellas schools. "And I'm a firm believer that children need to be with their mama."
The only thing they knew at Seminole Elementary on Tuesday, April 21, was that Alex's dad was lying. The school computer showed he had never attended Pinellas Central Elementary, as his father said. More than a year before, though, he had briefly attended Lakewood Elementary.
At Lakewood, Donna Cornetta and Lynn Nehring remembered Alex and the court order in his file, which last spring gave his mother sole custody of him and Jessica, 5. A hearing master in Pinellas civil court had ruled that their father could have supervised visits only. The hearing master checked "domestic violence" and "kidnapping" on the order, meaning the couple's history was reason to think Montes might hurt the children's mother.
Or take off with the kids.
Back at Seminole, principal Elaine Cutler called the school district's campus police chief, Joe Feraca. It was Wednesday, April 22. I think we've got a missing child, she told him.
Now, Feraca had a missing mother.