On February 8, 2012, Georgeann Baxter visited Walmart with her seven-year-old daughter, Brittney, in tow. It was an outing that started just like any other. But when the pair briefly split up to browse separate aisles, this seemingly normal shopping trip took a dramatic turn. Indeed, security cameras in the store filmed a man grabbing the youngster…
A native of Bremen, Georgia, Georgeann faced a challenge that day that each parent must contend with when shopping with their children – keeping a close eye on them. All seemed well, though, as the pair looked at Valentine’s Day cards and toys together. “We were walking around the Walmart, and we felt safe,” Georgeann subsequently told HLN.
That sense of safety disappeared, however, after Brittney opted to stay in the toy section while her mother went to grab some strawberries. At that point, the seven-year-old claims that a man approached her and tried to talk to her. From there, the situation reportedly took a terrifying turn.
“He came up to me and started a conversation,” Brittney told HLN. “I said, ‘I’m going to get my Mommy.’” In the Walmart security camera footage of the incident, the man then picked the youngster up and started to walk away with her. He didn’t get very far, however, seemingly thanks to Brittney’s quick-thinking.
The camera captured the seven-year-old flailing in the man’s arms, aiming kicks and punches at him while apparently screaming to grab someone’s attention. The alleged kidnapper subsequently put her down and ran off – before returning soon after to follow Brittney up another aisle. Within moments, though, he turned around and fled for good.
It turned out that Brittney’s reaction to this alleged kidnapping was a direct result of her family’s teaching. So with the words of her school counselor and her brother, a member of the U.S. Army, ringing in her ears, she put their advice into practice. “Punch, kick and scream as hard as you can, and then tell somebody that you trust,” the youngster explained regarding her response.
As for Georgeann, the incident understandably left her shaken as well. “I was freaking out at that point,” Georgeann told the Associated Press. “Because I thought that she just started looking for me and couldn’t find me.”
“I thought that she was just scared,” the mother continued, still visibly shaken by her memories of the episode. “So when she told me that someone had tried to get her, I just couldn’t believe it.”
Chief Keith Pesnell, of the Bremen Police Department, told the Associated Press, “[Brittney] did exactly what we teach the little ones to do at a time like that. She fought and screamed.” The youngster’s school counselor, meanwhile, also showered Brittney with praise following the incident.
“It’s never too early to say, ‘You stay right with mom, or you yell and scream if somebody were to (grab you),’” Emily Altman told HLN, while discussing the Tallapoosa Primary School’s “Good Touch, Bad Touch” program. “I couldn’t be prouder of her.” So with Brittney back in safe hands, the hunt soon began for her alleged kidnapper.
As it turned out, security cameras in the store’s parking lot also caught the suspect leaving. Consequently, a description of his car was given to the police. At the time, Sgt. First Class R.W. Chaffin was on patrol along Highway 78 near Tallapoosa, Georgia. And when he saw a vehicle matching the description, he pulled the driver over. The officer then arrested the suspect and handed him over to the Bremen Police Department.
The suspect’s name was Thomas Woods, and he was subsequently charged with a number of offences. They included kidnapping, false imprisonment, cruelty to children, simple assault, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and driving on a suspended license. However, Woods claimed that the police had caught the wrong man.
“I didn’t bother nobody,” Woods told the media as he was led from the police department to a patrol car. “I was never there.” But it turned out that the alleged kidnapper was already known to local law enforcement agencies.
At the time of his arrest, Woods was on probation for a voluntary manslaughter conviction following the death of his uncle, James Michael Price, in 2004. In that case, Price had been missing for three months when one of his credit cards was used by Woods, who was subsequently arrested. And after confessing to the killing of Price, Woods led the police to his uncle’s body. However, the case was to take an unexpected turn.
When Woods made his confession, his attorney wasn’t present. And that meant that his Fifth Amendment rights had been breached. Woods would subsequently plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter – rather than the more serious charge of homicide. He was later released on probation in October 2011, having served four years of his sentence.
Despite Woods’ claims to not have been present during Brittney’s alleged kidnapping, then, Chief Pesnell appeared satisfied with the arrest. “We’re pretty confident we’ve got the right guy,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in February 2012. The Bremen Police Chief also felt the need to share his thoughts on those who are convicted of violent crimes.
Pesnell stated that tougher restrictions should be placed on such individuals to avoid a repeat of what happened to the Baxters. “I think it’s time we have to look at things, for the safety of the children,” he told HLN. “Fortunately, things are in place to train our kids, and Brittney did exactly the right thing.”
Georgeann, meanwhile, was left wondering what might have occurred if her daughter hadn’t reacted as she had done. “I don’t know what would’ve happened if she hadn’t been kicking and screaming so that everybody knew something was wrong,” the mother told CBS 46.
“I couldn’t believe that somebody would do that to a little kid, so it was very scary,” Georgeann explained during an interview with The Guardian. Thankfully for her, though, Brittney came out of the ordeal unharmed.
So while this young girl and her mother reportedly faced a nightmarish situation, Brittney escaped her alleged kidnapper thanks to the teachings of her family and school counselor. To label her brave under these circumstances would be a major understatement.