The mum of a three-year-old girl who was almost snatched at Nutts Corner market on Sunday afternoon has spoken of her terror when her child went missing.
Poppy-Leigh Gilmore, from Cullybackey, was with her parents at the market when “the wrong man” grabbed her by the arm and took her away from her parents.
She had been standing right beside mum Sarah-Jane (26) and dad Jake Carson when she was taken, and though she was only missing for 10 minutes, Sarah-Jane said it was the longest 10 minutes of her life.
“She was right beside us, holding her toy in one hand and holding on to her little brother’s pram with the other. She’s never been a child to run off on us,” she said.
“We’ve been in shock ever since, just wondering ‘what if’ all the time.”
Sarah-Jane told the Belfast Telegraph how the family had been looking at a stall when they noticed her little girl was missing.
“It was around 2.50pm and Poppy-Leigh was right there beside us,” she said. “We just turned to speak to the stall holder and turned back to her and she wasn’t there.
“When we looked up and down the line of stalls she was nowhere to be seen. It was very frighting. The row was empty and panic set in.”
What followed was a frantic dash around the market, with several stall holders getting involved in a frantic search to find little Poppy-Leigh.
“The stall holder knew something wasn’t right and several more helped by going off to search for her. We set off in different directions and one of the stall holders got an announcement made over the tannoy system.
“I know tears were streaming down my face as we tried to cover as much of the market as we could as quickly as we could.
“I remember asking a man who was handing out Bible scriptures if he had seen her and he said he had. That gave me hope. Another woman told me she had passed her, but she was with her daddy.
“I told her that wasn’t her daddy, but I’m so thankful today to all of them for noticing and helping to find her before it was too late.
“There were a lot of people standing around bollards near the car park and instead of stopping to ask them I ran around them to continue looking.”
She was crying her heart out.
Eventually Poppy-Leigh was found hiding between two cars in the car park.
“I ran to her and she was crying her heart out,” said Sarah-Jane. “I asked her what happened and she said ‘the wrong man grabbed me’.
“The distance between where she went missing and where she ended up isn’t what a child of her age could cover on her own in such a short space of time.
“I called Jake to let him know I’d found her and after talking to the stall holders decided it was best to inform the police. I didn’t want to think someone else might have to go through what we had.
“She was able to tell them the man had asked her to take his hand and police said she would be too young to make something like that up. She had red marks on her hand where she had been grabbed.
“She was also able to tell them he was a young man, like her daddy, with dark hair and wearing a hoodie. We couldn’t expect much more than that.
“She’s been very quiet today,” said Sarah-Jane.
“She was up and down during the night, checking we were still there and we weren’t sure whether to send her on to school, but decided a normal routine might help.
“The school said she was quieter than usual and when she came home from nursery the postman arrived at the door and she ran up the stairs and hid in the bathroom.
“Hopefully she’s young enough to forget it all in a few days time and it won’t have any lasting effect.
“It's strange, but the night before Jake and I had noticed the story about a similar incident in Newtownards last week and we’d said it could never happen to us.
“But there’s a warning there for parents. Make sure you know where your child is when you’re out and about. Poppy-Leigh was never a child to wander off from us but in a split second she was taken.”
There’s a warning there for parents.
Police are appealing for information following the incident.
“Shortly after 3pm police received a report that a three year-old girl had disappeared whilst at a stall with her mother,” a spokesperson said.
“The child was located a short time later near a car park in the area.
“At this stage it is believed that a male has taken the child’s hand and led her away from the area.
“Thankfully the young girl was not harmed in any way, although she is extremely traumatised by her ordeal.”
Inspector Lindsay McCrea added: “I would appeal to anyone who was at the market in Nutts Corner yesterday and who may have witnessed a male acting suspiciously in and around the stalls to contact police at Antrim on the non-emergency number 101, quoting reference 1130 06/10/19.”