A Diamondhead woman experienced a parent's worst fear Wednesday. She said her little boy was left unattended on a hot school bus for nearly seven hours. Kelly Sutterfield's son is a special needs student at East Hancock Elementary School. She said what he went through has left him so traumatized, he doesn't want to get on the bus again. She credits a concerned stranger and the police department for saving her little boy.
Kelly Sutterfield plans to keep her son home from school until he undergoes a mental health evaluation. Her son, seven-year-old Gabriel Ibarra, has a speech impairment. She fears he may have suffered emotionally after an experience that left them both in tears.
"I thank the Lord he didn't die. Could you imagine this outcome? This could be like serious. What if instead of this kind of story of him happy, eating ice cream, he was in the morgue?" Sutterfield asked.
On Wednesday morning, Sutterfield put Gabriel on the bus at 6:30. Around 2:00pm, she received a call from the principal of East Hancock Elementary.
"Oh, I panicked. I panicked," said Sutterfield.
Sutterfield learned that Gabriel had been left alone on a hot bus after he fell asleep. The bus was parked by the Diamondhead Police Department.
"He thought he'd be in trouble for getting off the bus, so he stayed on for a long time and finally, the heat drove him out I guess," said Sutterfield. "He didn't know how he ended up where he was. He just knew he fell asleep and no one made sure he got off the bus. He was scared."
Gabriel found the open door and started wandering around West Diamondhead Drive. A woman driving by noticed the little boy and called the police.
"She sat outside with him until the cops came and got him, and that was amazing to me for a stranger to pull over and say this doesn't look right," said Sutterfield.
Sutterfield said Gabriel was tired, thirsty, and drenched in sweat. Officers kept him cool, calm, and hydrated.
"I was really upset. I don't want my child to go back to the school system," said Sutterfield.
Superintendent Alan Dedeaux declined an on camera interview with WLOX, saying he can't disclose any information about the incident because it's a student and a personnel matter. He said, fortunately, no one was hurt, and the district is looking into the matter and will take the appropriate action.
"That bus driver should be fired. This isn't cool. This isn't good," said Sutterfield.
She said the whole family is upset and angry over the incident.
"My fiance, his first son died of SIDS. So this is hurting him more than it hurts us because he's already lost one child. He was like, 'I could have lost my other son.' He's really traumatized with this," said Sutterfield.
Despite the terrifying ordeal, Sutterfield said she feels truly blessed.
"Oh my gosh, I can't even begin to tell you how thankful I am. He's everything. He's my only child, you know. I'd be lost without him," Sutterfield said.
Sutterfield also wanted to thank the kind stranger who took care of her little boy.
"I still need to find out who she is. I'd really like to say, 'God bless you and thank you. If it wasn't for you, I don't know what would have happened to my son,'" she said.
WLOX has also heard of bus problems in the Harrison County School District. Superintendent Henry Arledge said there have been two incidents of children being put on the wrong bus since school started. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Arledge said he has told the principals to put ID tags on the children to make sure they get on the right bus.
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