FENTON — St. Louis County Police officer Sean Becker first thought the child wandering around the car wash in Fenton was from the neighborhood. But aware that a girl had disappeared in Louisiana, Mo., some 70 miles away, the officer asked, "Is your last name Maier?" She nodded yes.
Becker recalled finding 4-year-old Alisa Maier during an interview in the Friday edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
It was Becker who responded about 9:45 p.m. Tuesday to a report of a small child, thought to be a 6- to 8-year-old boy, wandering alone at the car wash.
Becker found a child younger than that, wearing a T-shirt that read "Missouri Rocks," boys gym shorts and new gym shoes.
"Show me where you came from," the officer said. The child did not respond. "Show me where Mom and Dad are."
Finally, the child pointed to a street and said, "Brown car."
Becker took the child to his patrol car and she seemed hesitant, nervous, scared. Eventually, she felt more at ease and began to talk.
"Are you a little boy or a little girl?" he asked. "A little girl?"
She confirmed she was a girl. The officer drove to a street thinking the girl lived in the neighborhood, then pulled over to see if she could walk in the direction of her home. She walked a short ways, then stared blankly at Becker.
"Do you know where you're at?" he asked.
She nodded no.
That's when it occurred to him that it could be Alisa, kidnapped a little more than 24 hours earlier from her front yard.
A convicted sex offender, Paul Smith of Hawk Point, Mo., fatally shot himself on Wednesday as police approached him. Police think he was the kidnapper.
Becker contacted a dispatcher and asked for the Louisiana girl's name.
"Is your last name Maier?" he asked her.
She nodded yes.
Becker checked her for injuries, found none, then took her to St. Clare Health Center. Nurses gave Alisa a blanket and a drink. Someone at the car wash had given her a stuffed animal, and she continued to clutch it.
Becker used his cell phone to take pictures and sent the images to the FBI command post in Louisiana. FBI agents showed the pictures to Alisa's parents, who confirmed it was her, though her hair had been cut, apparently by Smith in an effort to conceal her identity.
"It was an emotional experience," Becker said. "To be that lucky was amazing. I'm happy she's back with her family."