How Danny Merrell Tracked Down the Thief Who Took His Kid’s Phone
This is the recount of the story of how I was able to track down the thief who took my daughter's smartphone while she was at school. I will break down this narrative in sections/chapters so that it is easier to follow exactly what happened.
A TEXT FROM MY WIFE
Tuesday morning, just before lunch, my wife sent a text to me and my son asking us to go to our 'Life 360 app' to see if we could locate Cullen's (my youngest daughter) phone. My wife is a teacher at Hudson Middle School and my daughter is a student at the high school there. I figured that the phone had been misplaced and they were trying to locate it. However, Life 360 showed that the phone's location had not been updated for 4 hours and my wife and daughter could not locate it anywhere.
THE DETECTIVE WORK BEGINS
Where could the phone be? Did someone take it? Here are the facts that I placed into evidence in my process of deductive reasoning:
- My daughter searched extensively through her backpack and the phone was not there
- My wife search exhaustively through her classroom (where my daughter goes after training in the morning), the phone was nowhere to be found
- Life 360 tracked the phone from the girl's locker room to a breezeway near the middle school before the signal was lost at 7:40 am.
- The tracking signal of Life 360 remained off from 7:40 for at least the next 6 hours
The conclusion - Someone had taken her phone out of her backpack from the unlocked locker and then headed for the middle school. That thief then turned off the phone so that he/she could not be tracked.
TO CATCH THE THIEF
My wife informed authorities at the school about the incident. Later in the day, she actually sat down with one of the school district's police officers to review video from a few of the surveillance cameras. They concentrated on the outside of the area of a gym to the breezeway area to try to find anything suspicious. Meanwhile, my son and I kept a close eye on our Life 360 apps to see if and when the suspect would turn the phone back on, and therefore give us his or her location.
HAVING MY DOUBTS
The more I looked at the evidence, the more doubts I had that the phone was stolen. Life 360 showed that the track of the phone had been from the locker room to the middle school. It's the exact route that my daughter would have taken to my wife's classroom. But, they insisted the phone was gone. My son and I decided to head to the school to pursue the remote possibility that the phone fell onto the grounds somewhere near the breezeway.
THE PHONE IS ON THE MOVE AND THE CHASE BEGINS
It was around 2:45 pm when we stopped for gas at the Brookshire Brothers Express across from Hudson Schools. I glanced at my phone and saw that Life 360 showed the phone was now on and on the move. The culprit was heading east on Ted Trout Drive and the chase was on. I was at the wheel and my son was navigating our route by keeping up with the read out of the thief on Life 360.
We were Starsky & Hutch, Magnum P.I., The "A" Team, and any Marvel character you can name, all wrapped into one bad-guy chasing force. We are getting back the Infinity Stones and setting the universe right again...of course, when I say Infinity Stones, I mean my daughter's phone.
DON'T CALL 9-1-1 WHEN CHASING DOWN A STOLEN PHONE
Yes, I was going over the speed limit as the pursuit continued down Highway 94 towards Lufkin. I didn't want to lose the thief and if a cop pulled me over - GOOD - I would explain the situation and he could join me in the chase.
I did call 9-1-1 at one point to see if officers could assist me. A voice inside my head told me that this wasn't enough of an emergency to call 9-1-1, and a polite dispatcher with the Angelina County Sheriff's Office confirmed what my conscience had been trying to tell me. She said we should let the Hudson ISD officer run point on this...but, still, the chase continued.
WE'RE GETTING CLOSER!!
We made the turn onto Loop 287 in Lufkin heading towards the red light intersection by the Post Office. We were now within a quarter mile of the stolen phone, but wouldn't you know we got caught at the light. AND WE LOST OUR SIGNAL! Anyone with service to AT&T knows about the west side dead zone. Thankfully we got signal back just in time for my son to identify which vehicle that he thought the phone was on.
"IT'S ON THAT BUS!"
As we moved past St. Cyprian's School, my son, using his powers of triangulation and watching many Marvel movies, deduced that the phone was on the school bus about 500 yards in front of us. PERFECT! We would just trail the school bus and every time a kid stepped off we could see whether LIFE 360 would move with that student.
But, what was a Hudson bus doing this deep into Lufkin? Maybe dropping kids off in Brookhollow?
THE THIEF REVEALED
The school bus had now made it to the intersection of Tulane and the frontage road. We were right behind the bus. We did not dare call the phone to tip off the punk boy or punk girl who had taken my daughter's phone. It was about to be the modern day version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, except without the guns and violence, and no one saying "I'm your Huckleberry". But, otherwise, it was the same. I felt like Wyatt Earp...nope, I was Josey Wales and in the shotgun seat was Iron Man. As the bus made a left turn onto Tulane, it dawned on me that I was not Earp, nor Wales, but instead, both of the guys from Dumb and Dumber. I now knew who the thief was.
My daughter is on the Hudson Swim Team, and after school they take the bus to Livewell Athletic Club on Tulane Drive to work out. That was the swim bus, my Cullen was on that bus. That was her walking off the bus...WITH HER PHONE!
"Oh, hi Dad, by the way I found my phone, it was deep in the bottom of my backpack. I sent Mom a text a little while ago." My wife had not seen that message yet because she was busy going through surveillance video at the school! We had been in hot pursuit of a phone that was never stolen, never taken, never really lost. It had always been deeply buried along side the 7 notebooks, 8 pencils, 14 disposable masks, and dozens of elastic hair ties. The phone was never turned off by a sinister thief, it was the terrible cell phone coverage in the Hudson schools area that caused LIFE 360 not to work
PARENTING IS HARD
At least with our oldest daughter, the craziest thing she did growing up was to stick a piece of crayon up her nose. Yes, it cost us a trip to the ER, but at least we knew where the crayon was. For 7 hours, we thought a pint-sized criminal had stolen Cullen's phone which led to me blazing down the highway trying to catch up to a bus so that I could go face to face with this little twerp and use my loudest, deepest voice to scare this kid straight. I was ready to try out to be one of the Scarers on 'Monsters, Inc.'
A ROUND OF APOLOGIES
Because of my actions in trying to bring a non-existent thief to justice, I'm sure that I should dish out some apologies.
- To the 9-1-1 dispatcher from the Angelina County Sheriff's Office who took my call, sorry for my lapse in judgement. She's had to deal with calls about shootings, break-ins and COVID emergencies. Now some guy calls in and is requesting all available units to help track down a stolen phone. I'm sure I rank right up there with the guy who calls 9-1-1 because his pizza order was wrong.
- To all the traffic on Highway 94 and the West Loop in Lufkin, that guy in the KICKS 105 pick up truck wasn't me. Okay, it was me, and I apologize for speeding past you and dangerously weaving in and out of traffic. For what it's worth, I did stay within the speed limit in the Hudson and St. Cyprian School Zones. Otherwise, not so much. Please don't stop listening to KICKS 105 because I cut you off.
- To the Hudson ISD Police Officer, I'm sorry about taking you away from your duties so that you could look through hours of surveillance video. I'm sure the one thing you wanted to do was to look through tons of video of a crime that never happened.
THANK YOU GOD
So...what's the major point I've learned through all this? God answers prayers and He has a sense of humor. I prayed that we would allow me to find my daughter's phone, I just didn't fill in the specifics. He took care of that.
Next time I'll just pray for better cell service.