He opened the car door and tried to yank the man out, he told KPIX 5, a CBS News station. The man tried to put the car in reverse, but “I did not give in,” Fang said.
The person eventually fled from the car, but not before he grabbed Fang’s phone. In the process of running after the person to retrieve his phone, Fang said, he realized his van was taken.
“They gave me my phone back and I tried to get back here [to the van] as soon as I could. I didn’t realize they had circled back and took my car anyway,” he told KPIX 5.
His kids were still inside.
More than four hours would go by Saturday night into early Sunday before his van and his two toddlers, a 4-year-old and 2-year-old, were found safe several miles away.
In those hours, California authorities issued an Amber Alert. San Francisco police shared updates online, and details were broadcast on police radio channels. Members of the San Francisco community — Fang’s friends as well as strangers — mobilized online and on foot to try to find the children.
“MISSING CHILDREN PLEASE HELP,” Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez tweeted. “My friend had his minivan stolen with his two toddlers inside. … Please share this widely.”
Fitzgerald Rodriguez, a reporter with KQED, shared details about the minivan’s make and model. He shared the license plate number and a stock image of what it looks like. He shared photos of the toddlers and retweeted local interviews with Fang, as the father begged for his children’s safe return.
“Times are hard. If you’re going to have to resort to stealing, that’s a different matter, but please don’t hurt my kids,” Fang pleaded in an interview with ABC7 News.
“If you are the guy who stole my car: Look, just drop my kids off, safely, please,” he told KPIX 5.
As Fitzgerald Rodriguez shared updates with his followers, those posts circulated widely.
“All of Bay Area. Look for this van,” one person tweeted.
Fitzgerald Rodriguez, speaking in his capacity as Fang’s friend, said more than 2 million people had seen his initial post.
“I have seen social media campaigns in the Bay Area used to help mobilize, so I should not have been surprised that my community has so much love in it,” he told The Washington Post on Sunday morning. “But I was just so overwhelmed by the amount of response I saw.”
He said it wasn’t just people helping online.
“People were telling me they were going out to look for themselves, walking around their block, driving around their neighborhoods,” Fitzgerald Rodriguez said, detailing how people searched for the van. “If I wasn’t so exhausted, I would be crying.”
Around 1 a.m., two police officers located the van and the children in San Francisco’s Bayview district, according to police, several miles from where they were taken in Pacific Heights.
Police said no suspects have been found, and the police department’s special victims unit is investigating.
Fang said the hours felt like “years.”
“Every minute was excruciating,” he told KPIX 5.
In an interview with The Post on Sunday, Fang said his kids later told him they slept through the ordeal, waking up to see police arriving to find the van.
“I’m grateful for that,” he said. “I’d rather they don’t remember.”
Fitzgerald Rodriguez said he brought Fang a hot coffee from McDonald’s, as well as food, blankets and a pillow on Saturday night as he waited to hear any updates.
He took the coffee, but he wouldn’t take the food, Fitzgerald Rodriguez said.
“He just wanted to know when they found his kids,” he said.
Before they were found, Fang told local reporters he blamed himself.
“Self blame for leaving the car on, self blame for a lot of things. Anxious,” he said to KPIX 5 about how he was feeling. “Just hoping to God they’re going to be okay.”
Lauren Casey, an organizer with Gig Workers Rising, a group based in the Bay Area that’s advocated against a law known as Proposition 22, said the incident was a “devastating example of the reality too many gig workers face during the pandemic and a post-Prop 22 gig economy.”
The measure classifies drivers who work for ride-hailing and delivery apps as independent contractors, rather than full employees who can receive benefits such as health care or sick leave.
“In the fifth-largest economy in the world, it is shameful that working parents are forced to make decisions like bringing their children to work with them,” Casey added, referring to California’s status. “Our heart goes out to the Fang family as they recover from this terrifying experience.”
Fang said that when police told him his children were found, “it was just elation.”
“Whoever you are, anyone that’s involved in helping to find my kids … thank you, thank you, thank you,” he told KPIX 5.
San Francisco police also acknowledged the public’s help.
“Information regarding the abduction was shared quickly on social media and it was apparent that residents of San Francisco were actively looking for the van and sharing information,” Sgt. Michael Andraychak said in a statement.
DoorDash’s CEO said the company was working with law enforcement in the ongoing investigation. In a statement shared with The Post, chief executive Tony Xu said DoorDash has been in contact with Fang “to offer our full support and our thoughts remain with him and his loved ones.”
The company, which said it was providing financial support to Fang, said that while authorities were looking for the van, a message was sent to DoorDash drivers in San Francisco alerting them to the situation and asking them to keep an eye out and notify police with any information.
Fitzgerald Rodriguez said he hoped the Fang family could “take a little time to recuperate after this.” He started a GoFundMe page in the hopes that his friend could take a bit of time off from work.
Fang told The Post he was “eternally grateful” for the way his community rallied to support him and choked up as he talked about a network of friends and parents who drove around the city searching for his kids.
He said of the “double-edged sword” of social media: “When it’s mobilized for good, it can be immense.”