KENNESAW, Ga. -- It was 7:24 p.m. on July 5. Fourth of July sales were going strong inside the sprawling Town Center Mall. Outside, temperatures that day had reached 93 degrees. A 16-month-old girl was sweating, left behind and alone inside a parked car.
Ada Smith's temperature was 100.2 degrees, police said later. The windows were rolled up, and sweat had soaked through her clothes and into the padding of the car seat. Her savior came dressed as a mall security officer.
The officer saw the girl and immediately called 911. First responders were able to unlock the car. They rescued the girl and said she had been there between two and two-and-a-half hours.
"The child's clothing was completely soaked in sweat," Cobb County Police spokesperson Alicia Chilton said. "She was clearly dehydrated and needed medical attention."
Town Center management turned down 11Alive's request to interview the security guard, but sent a statement:
Town Center at Cobb management would like to commend the mall’s vigilant security team as well as first responders for their prompt response to this situation. We are working closely with local authorities to share any information that may assist in their investigation.
The girl was rushed to a hospital. Police waited for the driver to return to the car. And waited. And waited.
No one ever came.
They impounded the car. Police used vehicle records to track down the owner: Dao Le.
They found her inside a store at the mall, at work.
Dao's husband - Ada's father - told 11Alive's Jon Shirek the 22-year-old Smyrna, Ga. mother works three jobs and goes to school. She's studying photography at the Art Institute of Atlanta, he said. He also works. The couple takes turns watching Ada. They also have a babysitter that helps with child care.
He said Dao was called into work Wednesday to cover a shift at the clothing store where she works at Town Center Mall.
Dao's manager at the store told 11Alive's Chris Hopper late Thursday afternoon that Dao usually works at the store's Vining's location, and had known for several days that she was going to be filling in for a shift at the Town Center location. The manager told Hopper that if she had known Dao might not have been able to arrange for child care for that shift, the manger said she would have gladly worked a double for Dao.
Ada's father swears Dao has never left their daughter in the car while working before. He was clearly shaken, still, the next day, worried and frightened, he said, for Ada and for Dao. He said he was also at work and didn't know that his wife had taken the child with her.
Extended family from North Carolina are on their way to Atlanta. Dao's husband is hoping police will release the toddler into the family's care.
Dao was booked into the Cobb County jail and charged with felony cruelty to children. Bond was set initially at $50,000. Her daughter remains in the hospital but was expected to be released soon.
"It just gives me cold chills," Chilton said. "People have got to stop and think about what they're doing."
Dao had her first appearance before a judge Thursday night. She was read the charge against her, cruelty to a child in the first degree. The judge explained that this is a felony charge.