Deidre Lam says a prayer every night for Sergeant Matthew Routh.
On July 7, Lam had picked up her 11-year-old son, Andre, from his day camp near Don Mills and York Mills. It was pouring rain in that late afternoon as a thunderstorm swept through the city, dropping the temperature rapidly.
Andre, who has Down’s syndrome and autism, was sitting in the back seat when Lam drove by Fairview Mall. Outside the mall there is a huge television screen that runs advertisements, and 11-year-old Andre wanted to see the screen up close.
“Andre managed to slide out of his seat belt and tried to open the back doors (of the car),” says Lam, who had the child-lock activated on both doors. When he couldn’t get out from the back doors, he tried to climb into the front seat,” said Lam.
Andre, who Lam describes as a gentle giant, as he is quite tall for his age, was fixated with the TV screen and wanted to see it, no matter what.
Lam reacted, driving her car a few blocks up and tried to calm Andre as she parked in a disabled parking spot. She got out of her seat to buckle Andre in again, but the young boy jumped into the front seat, opened the door and ran towards the giant television screen.
“I ran after him,” says Lam, unsure if she locked her doors. “It was pouring buckets and we were soaked to the bone… I know my son, he can be stubborn, so I thought we would be there for 15 minutes or so.”
But after 40 minutes passed in the pouring rain and strong winds, Lam was becoming increasingly anxious. Her husband was out of town for business and she had no relatives to call, Andre was not listening to her and Lam didn’t have a phone on her.
She flagged down a car with a woman in it who was kind enough to give Lam her phone to call 9-1-1 for help. Lam had never called the police before and did not know what to expect. The passerby, whose name Lam didn’t get, gave Lam an umbrella and went inside the mall to buy Andre a T-shirt, as both mother and son were soaked and shivering.
When Sergeant Routh made it to Lam and Andre, he could see the mother holding a flimsy umbrella over her son’s head as he stared at the TV screen.
“When Officer Matt came, he called Andre by his name,” recalls Lam. “I don’t know if officers have training to deal with children with autism but Matt’s tone was soothing and encouraging. He said ‘Andre it’s pouring rain, would you like to come sit in my car?’” But Andre wouldn’t budge.
Routh, who has been an officer for 16 years, and once was a swim instructor who had taught children with physical and mental challenges, tried to distract Andre with the lights on his police car.
“I tried to interact with Andre and get his focus on the lights, but he was fixated on the screen,” says Routh, who then contacted Communications to ask mall security to turn off the TV.
The weather turned even worse and, as bad as the rain was, it started pouring down even harder. Perhaps that startled Andre, who turned his attention to Routh’s car.
“He looked in it, but it was too cramped for him, so he wouldn’t get in,” says Lam. Instead the mother was able to convince her child to walk back to her car as Sergeant Routh followed them in his car at a slow pace.
“He wanted to make sure my car was still there,” says Lam, who said that the lights on Routh’s car kept Andre distracted and the boy kept looking at the car and waving at Routh.
It was the sensitivity that Officer Matt showed towards my welfare and my son’s welfare. It was very overwhelming
According to Routh, while Lam was a little distressed, she handled herself well and displayed calm and patience.
“I was impressed how well she handled Andre,” says Routh, whose concern was for their safety.
As Routh made sure Lam and Andre got back to their car safely, he said that Lam was very apologetic.
“I told her not to apologize, we are there to help and she shouldn’t hesitate to call. It went as well as anticipated and I’m glad mom called us and we were able to help her and Andre for what was a time of crisis for them,” says Routh.
For Lam, it was great to see how well police responded to her.
“It was the sensitivity that Officer Matt showed towards my welfare and my son’s welfare. It was very overwhelming,” Lam says.
“You hear different stories of police, but he was so great and I was so grateful… he was just really kind and we say a prayer for him every night.”