At first, the man behind the wheel wasn’t quite sure what he was seeing.
Cory Cannon was driving to work Saturday evening, cruising through a suburban neighborhood in Lakewood Township, N.J., when he saw something in the road that made him tap his brakes.
“I thought it was a toy or something,” Cannon told the Asbury Park Press.
Then it moved.
A baby boy, traveling on all fours, had crawled halfway across the street and was in the middle of Cannon’s lane, plodding along perpendicular to oncoming cars. The speed limit on the road is 40 miles per hour.
Panicked, Cannon pulled over, stopped traffic behind him and, for proof, snapped a picture of the itinerant infant. A neighbor then joined Cannon and returned the child to his home, said the Lakewood Police Department, which is investigating the incident with the state child protection department.
“The family of the child was unaware that he had left until the neighbor returned him,” Lakewood Police Capt. Gregory Staffordsmith said in a statement to The Washington Post on Monday.
Lakewood, near the coast, is a fast-growing township of 100,000 that recently reported an increase in fatal crashes.
Police said the baby boy may have crawled out through a door that an older sibling left open. The family of the child did not respond to requests for comment.
Cannon, who also did not respond to requests for comment, posted his photos of the baby mid-crawl to Facebook on Saturday, igniting what the Asbury Park Press deemed “a media firestorm.” In his post, Cannon was critical of the child’s parents, calling it “parenting at its absolute worst.”
On the newspaper’s website, a post sharing its story about the incident drew a wide spectrum of comments, ranging from outrage to understanding, directed at both the parents and Cannon for his role as photographer.
One user asked, “How come the parents aren’t charged with reckless endangerment,” and others accused them of “neglect.” Some called Cannon a “Good Samaritan” for stopping traffic, while others criticized him for taking the picture. (Cannon, for his part, took pains to convey that his picture-taking did not slow his reaction, telling the Asbury Park Press, “my GPS was open on my phone, so I used my work vehicle to slow down traffic behind me and took the pic as I was exiting the vehicle and halting oncoming cars.”)
But some pointed out that parenting perfection is impossible to achieve, and said this baby’s guardians deserve a little mercy. One man, commenting on the newspaper story, said he did the same thing when he was a toddler.
“It happens,” he wrote. “I have a great mom who was very attentive throughout my childhood.”
A column in the Star-Ledger on Monday explained, “Why we shouldn’t shame the parents of the Lakewood baby crawling in the road.”
“It happened because he was a kid. It happened because no one, absolutely no one, can keep an eye on a kid every minute. And if they do, they are smothering them,” the author wrote, confessing an instance in which he, too, had turned his attention from one of his children.
Neighbors, who told local media they didn’t want to be named, said the ire that the online commentariat has directed at the family is unfair.
“It’s devastating what people are saying on social media,” the neighbor said, telling the Asbury Park Press that she often sees the family playing with their children at a nearby park.
In the glare of social media outrage and a police investigation, the family of the child has remained reserved, but a reporter for the Asbury Park Press who knocked on their front door said the woman who answered called the incident “an accident.” Without opening the door to the reporter she added that she didn’t have time to comment on the situation, saying she was too busy tending to the baby.