To meet Allie, you’d never guess what happened in 2009. She’s tall and slender, demure and intelligent. She has a sweet nature and is genuinely interested in people and animals. A little bit shy, she can easily be brought out of her shell when asked about her fossil collection or any discussion about travel. She loves to sing with the minister of her church, though she’d never take a solo. And she’s an active home-school mom; she wanted to have a direct influence on her son’s education and be able to take him out into the natural world as often as possible, because she believes that is where real learning happens.
But one October afternoon in 2009, when her son was only 6, Allie had given in and taken him to a giant toy store in her town. Normally, she preferred to spend time with him in parks and alongside streams, but he’d been begging for a certain Hot Wheels set. Feeling agitated and inpatient, Allie relented. But something about the sky high racks filled with too-brightly colored boxes, the harsh florescent lights and the running, screaming children—including her own son—began to overwhelm her. Before she knew it, she’d dashed out of the store and into the confines of her Volvo station wagon, where she said she felt safer. Two hours went by while Allie sat in her car; she doesn’t remember what she thought about. Eventually, store personal discovered a little boy alone and in tears looking for his mother. The police were called to the scene, which finally got Allie’s attention. But when confronted, she became combative.