Luckily Victor Cave is really cute. Gorgeous brown eyes with thick lashes. A nice smile. And outgoing, especially for a kid who just turned 3 in February.
People in the neighborhood remembered him. Not to be overly dramatic, but maybe it saved his life.
He chatted up a couple of people in the Walnut Hills Kroger, talked to some others on the street. According to Cincinnati Police Sgt. Daniel Oliver, one woman remembered him well enough to worry.
She confronted the boy's mother, Tashara Jetter: ''Where is your baby?'' Vela Dennis wanted to know.
It turns out that he was inside a 1975 Cadillac Coupe deVille in the parking lot of an auto repair shop at the corner of Kemper Lane and William Howard Taft. One of those big old gas hogs, the car is missing its hood ornament. Its once pale blue body is now a dull gray. At least the car is roomy and the seats are leather. Cracked white leather.
I poked around the interior, but there wasn't much to see. Some mysterious (to me) car parts on the floor in back. It looked pretty clean and didn't smell bad. Some reports have Victor wrapped in a urine-soaked blanket.
Just in case it would matter to him, that he was trying to be a ''big boy,'' I'd like to say that I saw absolutely no sign of that, even though police think his mother left him there for at least 12 hours.
The car's battery was missing, so Victor couldn't have honked the horn or turned on the lights to attract attention. Maybe he was asleep most of the time. So maybe he wasn't scared. Maybe.
A mechanic who left the lot at 11:30 Saturday night swears that he would have seen Victor if he'd been in the car then.
When police found the boy about 10 a.m. Sunday morning, he was hungry and thirsty. Somebody bought him a sausage biscuit and egg sandwich and some juice. Victor said his mommy had left him there and would be back.
Ms. Jetter, 25, of Price Hill, was charged with child endangering. ''Are you through with me? Can I go now?'' she asked police when they questioned her.
Not yet. Monday morning, she appeared in court and was sent to the Pauline Warfield Lewis Center for psychiatric evaluation. She has no previous record. Victor's grandmother, Willa Cave, says she hopes Victor's mother will get the help she needs.
Ms. Jetter has two other kids, both younger than Victor. They're with their father.
As is usual and appropriate, Hamilton County Department of Human Services draws a curtain between this little boy sent to their care and those of us who want to know more about him.
They're friendly, polite. They just think it's more important to make life easier for Victor Cave than to make life easier for me.
I admire that.
So what, I ask Mindy Good, the spokeswoman, can I know about this?
''Victor is safe now,'' she says.
He's with his father, Alamin Cave, says Enquirer reporter B.G. Gregg, who saw them playing together. ''They seemed happy, and he was calling him 'Daddy.'''
A bright side
If the mother needs help, she may get it now. She's ''in the system.'' Victor is with his father for the first time in 2 1/2 years. And some people came forward to help a child who did not belong to them.
A woman asked questions. A man made a telephone call to police. Somebody dug into his pocket for breakfast. Now there will be social workers and counselors.
''People don't like to hear this, but it's that village thing again,'' Ms. Good says, ''taking responsibility for kids who are too little to take care of themselves.''
And it was not unbearably hot in the car. Or unbearably cold. If Victor's mom had put him there one month earlier or two months later, it might be a different story. But the weather wasn't bad, and the good villagers were on duty that morning.
FATHER CLAIMS VICTOR April 22, 1997
BOY, 3, LEFT ALONE IN A CAR OVERNIGHT April 21, 1997
Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio, and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.