Cara Smith spends an afternoon with her children Taylor, 7 and 20-month-old Wyatt. Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies, along with other first responders, helped bring him home safe after he was abandoned in the woods near Lake Holiday in January. Photo courtesy Cara Smith

While the communities of the Key Peninsula and Gig Harbor are gathering for a celebration to thank first responders in our area on Oct. 2, one young mother is especially grateful. She said from law enforcement to paramedics and ER staff, they all helped her and her children through a difficult ordeal.

In January Cara Smith and her husband Justin were having marital problems. Though she said they tried to make it work and had sought help for their relationship, it was quickly spiraling and hope was waning.

On Jan. 11 she sent her daughter to school, and she and Justin were home with their 11-month-old son Wyatt. What happened that morning was terrifying for her, she said. It was a shock for the community.

The couple argued, but it turned physical as she tried to leave, she said.

“I knew that my husband would hurt myself or my child.”

She said she tried to run after he took her keys and cell phone away from her, but he followed her. As they continued to argue she said she pleaded with him to just let her leave. She said he made her put the baby in his truck. One car drove past, and she hoped they would see that something was not right with the scene, but the car kept going.

“He came for my throat one last time and basically told me I was going to die, and there happened to be a Pierce County Sheriff’s car that pulled into our driveway,” Cara said.

Someone had heard a scream and called 9-1-1.

“I’ve never been so happy to see someone in my life.”

Justin backed out of the driveway, hitting the deputy’s car, and sped away.
Cara said there was a bit of confusion at first, because the responders didn’t realize the baby was in the truck with her husband. Once they knew, everything was amped up. Helicopters were in the air, SWAT officers were on the ground and schools were on lockdown.

“They immediately drew in all types of help and my daughter had been put on a bus and was at school, so they were able to lock down the school and got her into my care and in a way that was not disruptive to her,” she said. “The SWAT guys got me out of there immediately when they found the abandoned vehicle in Lake Holiday and it totally changed the climate of what was going on. They were very thorough about checking my residence because there was a missing rifle that was my husband’s. We didn’t know where it was, and they were concerned he had it.”

Justin had been in the Marine Corps.

As the team of officers searched for Justin and Wyatt, Cara sat in a vehicle with a member of law enforcement.

“We were on a back road in Lake Holiday and I looked at his dashboard and all the pictures of his family and it really was meaningful that they were out there looking for my child and they’re just people like me. It gave me another perspective of what they do.”

Sgt. Jesus Villahermosa of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department heard a soft cry and was the officer who told everyone to be quiet, and found Wyatt, she said.

“I was able to thank him personally because I saw him at my husband’s second arraignment,” she said. “I saw him in the courthouse and got all the way to my car and realized ‘Oh my gosh, that is the guy that brought back my baby.’”

She was able to talk with him and thank him, and she said it meant a lot to her to have the chance to do it in person.

“His buddy is Sgt. Frank Clark, they are the main players in finding my baby. From EMS to air support and the guys who came out after that to make sure we were OK, and the people who took care of us as if we were their own kids. I just want to thank all of them. And also the people who came by and put cards in our door, perfect strangers who left things like Albertson’s gift cards.”

The gift cards were very much needed, she said, as the weeks wore on and life was difficult.

She said Child Protective Services has played a big role in protecting her son as well.

The couple is divorcing.

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