The wife had taken the kids for the dino display at Plaza Sing and I was at work when, at 6.21pm, I received a call from my wife, her voice trembling, "I lost Faith! She broke free from my grip and ran away from me at the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station control and I don't know where she is! I need your help!"
The wife was on her way home with the kids when this happened.
I grabbed my bag and rushed out of the office with Ryan, who offered to drive me to the station. My office was in town so we did not have far to go, even though the rush hour traffic was snarling.
I called the wife back, "Where are the two younger ones?" referring to Isaac and Joy.
"The NEL station control offered to look after them while I am still searching myself," she replied. I told her I was on my way and to meet me at the station control.
I was in a bit of a daze. Faith has autism, the severe kind. She does not speak, does not respond to her name easily, cannot tell anyone she is lost, and does not know what is dangerous.
Faith could not be lost in a worse possible place, at a worse possible time. Dhoby Ghaut is a huge maze of an interchange station. It opens up into several malls and roads. Faith could be anywhere. In addition, there are THREE lines running through Dhoby Ghaut, and she could jump on any of the trains that will take her anywhere in Singapore. And lastly, it was rush hour. On a Friday evening.
I did not know where to start looking.
I decided that I needed to get as many people looking for her as possible. We had to find her as soon as possible because the longer she was missing, the further she could get, and then the harder it would be to locate her.
So I gathered all the information I could from my wife, like what she was wearing and what she was carrying, and tweeted it:
"We lost Faith at Dhoby Ghaut Stn. She's 11, autistic & can't talk, in white top, gray skirt. Pls take her to station control if you see her."
It was important to get the details correct or people would get the wrong info and look for the wrong girl. I checked and double-checked with the wife before I sent that tweet.
The Twitter community responded with a flood of Retweets. Friends on Facebook passed the word along. I knew then that I had extra eyes looking out for Faith.
Then I thought, ok, people may need to have a photo of her, so they know what she looks like. So I hunted for a photo of her from my mobile phone, and tweeted:
"This is what Faith looks like. If you see her at Dhoby Ghaut station area, pls take to station control. She is autistic, age 11, wearing white top & gray skirt. http://path.com/p/3Kfai"
This was also passed along.
By this time, I was already talking to NEL station control. Ryan offered to take my two younger kids home to let my wife and I continue the search. Earlier on, when Faith was initially lost, my wife tried to ask the station control to make an announcement.
Because they didn't understand that Faith was a special needs child who didn't have speech or typical communication skills, even though my wife tried to explain it to them, they made the initial announcement as "Will Faith Lee please come to the station control."
It was not their fault for not understanding what Faith's autism meant. We knew we had to make the best of the situation. I asked the station manager if there were any leads on where Faith could be.
"She was seen on the CCTV heading towards the Circle Line platform," he said, pointing to one of his screens.
I ran towards the platform and searched frantically, no Faith. At the platform, a train waited, doors open, ready to depart for Harborfront. I checked inside too.
I had a dreadful feeling in my heart but I kept as calm as I could. I ran back to NEL station control, asking, "Did you see if she boarded the Circle Line train? And which direction?"
The NEL manager told me his CCTV could only see till the escalators. I would need to speak to the Circle Line station control of Dhoby Ghaut station. He did say that he had already passed the information to the SMRT staff running that line.
I ran over to the Circle Line station control, meeting some Transit cops who told us they were on the lookout too, and a helpful SMRT lady informed me that they had every station along Circle Line looking out for Faith. Just then, she got a call and she told me that a girl fitting Faith's description was seen on the train at Bishan Circle Line station, in the direction of Harborfront.
I sent out another tweet:
"Faith was last seen on Bishan train at 6.50pm heading towards Harborfront. If you see her on the train or stations please take her to staff."
My youngest brother and I decided to intercept Faith at Harborfront by going via NEL. It would get us there faster. Based on the time of the sighting at Bishan, 6.50pm, it would take Faith's train 30 minutes to get to Harborfront via the Circle Line. Our NEL route would get us there, hopefully, ahead of her. And assuming she did not get off the train at any other station.
My mother and my wife boarded the Circle Line to see if they could spot her along the way. We were covering as many bases as we could.
When I got to Harborfront, I bumped into Michael, a good friend. He also joined my brother and I to help look out for Faith at Harborfront Circle Line platform.
The train we suspected was Faith's arrived. We entered the train at three different points, while some SMRT staff were seen on the platform looking out too.
We didn't have enough time to search the carriages because suddenly the doors beeped for closing. My brother and I jumped out. Michael was still on the carriage. I phoned Michael and said, "Do you see Faith on this train at all?" He said no, but he would get off at the next station, Telok Blangah, and double back to rejoin us.
Then seconds later, Michael called back, "I have Faith! She's at Telok Blangah Station!"
"You SEE her or you have her in your possession?" I asked, my heart already beating like a madman's.
"I have her, she is with me and some SMRT staff."
My brother and I hopped onto the train towards Telok Blangah Station to join them. And there Faith was, lying on the floor of the Telok Blangah Station platform, with Michael and the staff not entirely sure how to calm her down.
I carried her up and held her to calm her down. Her skin was cold to the touch, the kind of cold skin you get when you have been frightened. Though she was laughing, I knew it was just her coping mechanism. I held her longer to calm her nerves and asked the staff, Mr Izzwan where she was found.
Apparently, Faith was lying on the floor of the train towards Harborfront and giggling hysterically, as she does when she is frightened or overwhelmed. The other passengers alerted Izzwan and he took her off the train at Telok Blangah, just as Michael got off his own train heading in the opposite direction. What timing!
I gave Izzwan my particulars and Faith's, and thanked him profusely. He seemed a little shy about the attention. He was a real hero. So was Michael.
I called the wife and my mother and told them we found her so they didn't have to worry, and told eveyone to regroup at Dhoby Ghaut. We called and reassured our concerned friends and family, some of whom were about to set off to join us in the search.
I also sent out a tweet to tell everyone we had finally found Faith so that they wouldn't worry too.
"We found Faith at Telok Blangah Station! Thank you all for your help! http://pic.twitter.com/EjOFcCMs"
Reunited with the family, we decided to take a very hungry Faith for dinner at Newton before going home. She devoured her chicken rice and got some sugarcane juice as a treat.
It was a miracle finding Faith. She literally took an MRT ride around Singapore, from Dhoby Ghaut to almost the end of the Circle Line. She could have gotten off at any station, wander out into the open roads, or gotten lost inside Dhoby Ghaut itself.
But we found her, thanks to SBS and SMRT staff and TransCom Police who did their best to help us. Thanks to Izzwan of SMRT who ushered Faith out of the train to Telok Blangah platform.
Thanks to the Twitter community and Facebook friends who rallied around us, and spreading the word. Thanks to the mainstream media who also got the word out (my younger kids heard the news on the radio in Uncle Ryan's car, they told me). Thanks to the friends and family who joined the search on such short notice, especially Michael.
And above all, thank God for watching over our firstborn and bringing her back home to us.