The child feared her father was seriously hurt and so she fled on foot looking for someone, anyone, to help him, Lt. Michael Shaw told WDIV in Detroit.
“She didn’t care about herself,” Anthony Burts, a family member, wrote on a GoFundMe page intended to support the family. “She was racing against time to save her father as anyone with a heart of gold would have.”
Shaw said the child appeared to have climbed over the fence and started walking along the freeway. At some point she sent a text message to 911 to tell dispatchers her dad was in trouble, possibly even dead — but authorities struggled to pinpoint her location, Shaw said.
“We are just taken aback that we couldn’t find her before something happened,” Shaw told Fox 2.
A second 911 call came in just as police were trying to find her. This one was from a woman. She feared she hit a pedestrian crossing I-94. But it was dark. She couldn’t see anyone on the road. Nor could state troopers when they showed up with flashlights, searching throughout the area, Shaw told WDIV.
It wouldn’t take long for Romulus police and the Michigan State Police to connect the two 911 calls.
While state troopers looked for the struck pedestrian, Romulus police were investigating the crash involving the girl’s father. Shaw told WDIV that the child’s father appeared “very intoxicated” at the scene and that he had to be helped out of the vehicle.
“He wasn’t giving any information,” Shaw said. “Nothing indicating that anyone else was in the vehicle at the time.”
They continued looking for her.
Soon they discovered Thomas’s body in the median of I-94, about one mile from the site of her father’s crash, Shaw told Fox 2.
“This poor child, 7 years old, doesn’t get to live the rest of her life because of a decision that an adult made,” he said.
Shaw said the father was in custody and remained under investigation. He was not identified by police or in reports and it was unclear whether he had been charged. The woman who struck the 7-year-old, who was not named by police, was released at the scene and has not been charged, police said.
In an interview with Fox 2 later Sunday, Thomas’s mother, Sandria Burts, said she was at work when police delivered the news about her daughter. Thomas was a rising third grader, Burts said, and was a blessing to everyone she knew.
“It’s a void that will never be filled,” she said. “Never be filled.”