The Lost Child
by Robert Hamilton, Deputy Sheriff (ret.)
In 1980, I was a Sheriff’s Explorer training for my chosen career in law enforcement. My duties included working in the corrections system and helping the deputies with paperwork. I was stationed in El Centro, California at what we called the “Old Jail.” The jail reminded me of 1950s TV shows. The main door was eight inches tall, made of old steel bars, and needed a special key to open it. A person had to be buzzed in, and when the door closed, it gave off a loud echo of metal on metal. To the left was the dispatch office that was the size of a large closet. The far wall was the booking desk.
On one particularly cool night in the desert, Abe Sotelo was the watch commander and booking sergeant. Sgt. Sotelo was a soft-spoken, easy-to-work-for supervisor and, at the time, had about twenty-two years on the job. We waited for the graveyard shift to arrive—their shift started at 11:00 p.m.
The graveyard shift arrived on time, except for Deputy Richard Sanchez. Sanchez had five years with the office and was a good deputy who had an officer’s back no matter what was going down. After twenty minutes, Sgt. Sotelo asked the dispatcher, Norma Solomen, to call Deputy Sanchez’s residence and inquire if there was a reason Sanchez was going to be late. Norma called, talked to someone at the residence, and hung up. She said Deputy Sanchez had left his home a half hour before and should be at the jail any moment.
Soon after, Deputy Coroner Doug Palmer entered the Old Jail. He walked into the dispatch area and poured himself a hot cup of coffee to warm up from the cool night. Deputy Palmer had come in to place some photographs into evidence—photos of a child that had drowned earlier that day. The mood was somber as we looked at the photographs. Whenever a child dies, even the most hardened deputy has shed a tear.
During the conversation, Deputy Sanchez finally arrived apologizing for being late. Sanchez walked into the dispatch office and asked Norma to send a patrol unit to the intersection of Kloke and Cole Roads. These roads were beyond town limits, rural, and surrounded by farmland. He was just at the intersection’s stop sign, and there was a young boy on the canal bank, waving at him. He said the child was playing on the canal bank and a patrol unit should do a check.
Norma sent the request out to patrol, and it was picked up by Deputy Bob Aspen.
Deputy Sanchez explained that he was going to stop to question the child; however, the hair stood up on the back of his neck. “The child was white as a sheet.” Deputy Sanchez continued, saying he could tell "something was just not right with the boy.”
Deputy Palmer, like all of us, listened to Sanchez’s story. When Sanchez was done, Palmer asked for a description of the child. Sanchez said, “The child was a boy about ten years old, and he was wearing a green-striped shirt and jeans.” He said the boy was about four feet tall.
Deputy Coroner Doug Palmer, unphased, reopened his folder and produced the photographs of the drowning victim. Seeing the photos, Deputy Sanchez visibly trembled. He confirmed that the photographs were of the boy he saw on the canal waving at him. Palmer looked at Sanchez, then side-eyed all of us, perhaps thinking this was a bad joke. We stood in silence.
Palmer told Sanchez that the young boy in the photographs was a drowning victim he had recovered earlier that day.
At this time, Deputy Aspen radioed that he had arrived at the location: the intersection of Cole and Kloke Roads. We listened, waiting to hear Aspen’s report. Within five minutes, Aspen radioed he was back in service and said to log the call as UTL (unable to locate).
It seemed as if Deputy Sanchez had been punched in the gut; he lost his balance and almost fell to the floor. After Sanchez calmed down, Sgt. Sotelo decided we were properly staffed and told Deputy Sanchez to go home. Sgt. Sotelo wrote up the incident and sent it up the chain of command.
Deputy Sanchez was off for two weeks due to “medical reasons.”
In 1984, I was a Reserve Deputy L1, and by that time there were always numerous accidents at the intersection of Cole and Kloke Roads. In May of that year, I spoke to veteran Highway Patrol officer, Lisa Bower. Officer Bower told me the following: Drivers involved in an accident in that area would say a child waving on the canal bank had distracted them. Witnesses to accidents mentioned a boy standing on the canal bank, waving at them. All drivers and witnesses gave the same description of the child, a young boy wearing a green-striped shirt. When witnesses and drivers looked away, the child was always gone when they looked back.
After too many unexplained accidents, Imperial County installed red warning lights and two new stop signs, making a four-way stop. This was unusual for a remote and little-traveled area. Yet, when the warning lights were installed, the accidents stopped and no further reports of the lost child on the canal bank were reported.
Deputy Sanchez made a full recovery and never spoke of the incident.
Robert Hamilton was born in Poughkeepsie, New York and grew up in a small village called Wappinger Falls. After his parents divorced, he moved to Florida before making Southern California home. There, he fulfilled his dream of becoming a deputy sheriff. Fifteen years later, his career came to a crashing end after experiencing a job-related injury that caused him to be honorably retired. As a deputy, Robert saw and heard things that were unexplained and without explanation: ghosts, evil, and just strange things. This was not new to him, as he had seen and heard things as a small child. Psychic? No, he’d be rich. Robert enjoys reading stories of the unexplained, and flying his drone.