On a snowy night in Ogden, Utah, Marcus King was walking past a playground so that he could play basketball. Then he heard a little girl call out. The girl was all by herself, too, and it was such a cold night that King was concerned. And what he discovered next was equally as chilling.
Recounting events to journalists later, King explained that he was worried about the girl because of the area they were in. Talking to Fox 13, King said, “This is not a good part of Ogden – there’s a lot of weirdos around here.”
In fact, King hasn’t always been a model citizen himself. In 2017, for instance, he was arrested twice on charges including theft of services, possession or use of a controlled substance and endangering a child or vulnerable adult.
Yet it seems that King didn’t hesitate to do the right thing on this occasion. He said he had been heading to a basketball game when he’d heard someone calling out. And although at first King hadn’t seen who the voice belonged to, he subsequently caught sight of a little girl playing in the snow next to the playground.
King reportedly noticed that the young girl – who said that her name was Emily – was inappropriately dressed for the weather. In fact, she was barefoot, with only some My Little Pony pajamas to keep out the cold. “She didn’t have any jacket, no shoes, no parental supervision,” King told Fox 13. “[I] just took action then and took her inside.”
By “inside” King was referring to the Marshall White Community Center, and staff there called the police. But instead of leaving Emily, King waited with her until officers could get an idea where the little girl’s family was. It was then that events took an even more disturbing turn.
It emerged that Emily had lived opposite the playground in an apartment with her mom. Accompanied by King, the little girl subsequently showed the police to her home, where the cops discovered the front door open. And once inside the apartment, officers made an upsetting discovery.
“When they walked over there, the door was wide open,” King recounted. “And the way the little girl was explaining it was: her mom wasn’t paying attention, and her mom was on the floor sleeping.” Unfortunately, the situation was far worse than anybody would have liked.
Tragically, the girl’s mom, DeLynn Cunningham, was lying dead on the floor of the apartment. It seems the 41-year-old had died of natural causes, possibly linked to a pre-existing medical condition. Disturbingly, though, the woman had been dead for 15 to 20 hours before she was found.
Given the uncertainty as to the exact time of death, it’s still unknown how long Emily had been left unsupervised or how long she’d been in the playground before King had found her. But for King’s apparent intervention, then, Emily may have been discovered by someone undesirable. The girl could also have contracted hypothermia from being out in the cold.
Happily, Emily is now in safe hands again. Indeed, the little girl was being looked after by the Utah Division of Child and Family Services when a relative came across the Fox 13 report about Emily’s discovery. Shelley Cunningham, the child’s aunt, subsequently got in touch with the authorities to collect her niece – and to praise the man who made it all possible.
“Thank you, Marcus King!!” Cunningham posted on Facebook. “This was my sister and my niece, the little girl is safe thank you so much.” With the help of social media, the story spread even further, and other relatives began to get in touch. They too were quick to show King their appreciation.
“I wish I could have been there yesterday, Marcus,” Ed Rowley, Emily’s great uncle wrote. “Not only would I have reached out to shake your hand, I would have given you a brotherly type hug. Very proud family you must have.”
Ultimately, King and Emily were reunited so that the little girl and her family could thank him in person. And the good Samaritan posted a picture to his Facebook page showing the two of them together. Emily is living with her extended family now, and her uncle Timothy has created a crowdfunding page in part to help pay for her upkeep.
And through the kindness of strangers, money has started to come in. Timothy has kept people abreast of events, too. “Thank you for your donations,” he wrote in an update. “Adjusting to this new reality is difficult for all of us. We are extremely grateful for everyone’s generosity.”
Sadly, Emily isn’t the first child to be left to fend for themselves following the unexpected death of a carer. Notably, the case of Christine Thi Woo’s offspring stands as a sad example. In that situation, Mom Christine had been missing for three days before authorities had finally tracked her down. And when they found her, they came across a heartbreaking sight.
It transpires that Woo had gone out in her car with her three children but had then disappeared. Police later discovered that she had purchased some sleeping pills from a local store and overdosed on them. When the family car was eventually discovered, Woo was pronounced dead at the scene. Furthermore, her three children, though still alive, were chronically dehydrated.
It seems that Woo may have buckled under the stress of caring for three children aged under five. According to an employee of a local music school the children attended, Woo had appeared to be struggling. Indeed, the kids had begun missing the music lessons that they once seemed to enjoy.
It was a story that touched many people, and one local mother attending a vigil for Woo was sympathetic. “I think every mother, every parent that has heard of the story, has played out in their imagination what happened in that car,” Cate Biggs said.
Even those close to Woo were shocked by the event, with friends and neighbors saying there had been no outward signs. What’s clear is that sometimes the people who need help aren’t able to ask for it. Thankfully, in the case of both Woo and Cunningham, the children were not badly hurt.