New Brunswick

Moncton Walmart staff recognized by RCMP for role in locating abducted Florida boy

Four Moncton Walmart employees were recognized Wednesday by RCMP for their role in the safe return of an abducted Florida boy.

Six-year-old had been missing two months

Ajay Gabani, Michele Lewis, Natasha Keeling and Sarthak Sojitra were recognized by Codiac Regional RCMP on Wednesday. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

Four Moncton Walmart employees were recognized Wednesday by RCMP for their role in the safe return of an abducted Florida boy.

Codiac Regional RCMP members gave Ajay Gabani, Sarthak Sojitra, Michele Lewis and Natasha Keeling certificates of recognition at the Plaza Boulevard store Wednesday. 

Acting Supt. Benoit Jolette said the certificates are normally given to RCMP members to mark a job done well. Jolette said he felt the store staff should be recognized. 

"Because without their actions, that young boy could still be out there somewhere, missing from his family," Jolette said. 

Located thousands of kms from home

The event revealed more details about how the six-year-old boy from Miami was located thousands of kilometres away from where he had disappeared about two months earlier.

The boy's parents were separated and the boy wasn't returned after a scheduled visit with his father on Aug. 27.

Police have alleged his father and grandmother kidnapped the boy and crossed into Canada. 

An abandoned vehicle near the Maine-New Brunswick border was the last sign of the three until Oct. 30.

WATCH | 'Without their actions, that young boy could still be out there somewhere':

Walmart workers thanked by Codiac RCMP for help with safe return of missing boy

2 months ago
Duration 3:43
RCMP recognize Moncton Walmart employees for their role locating an abducted Florida boy.

CBC News is not naming the child or the family members because he is no longer a missing person. 

That October morning, Ajay Gabani was working near the front entrance when he says two customers approached to say they believed the father and son were in the store. 

Gabani told reporters he looked up photos of them from news coverage. 

"I was sure that he's the right person in the news," Gabani said. 

Codiac Regional RCMP acting Supt. Benoit Jolette, centre, speaks about the certificates as Plaza Boulevard Walmart store manager Tyler Pursey, left, and Cpl. Jason Roy listen. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The father was in the electronics section looking to buy a phone SIM card. 

Sarthak Sojitra, who was talking to the father at the counter, said the man hesitated when asked his name for the store's file and had to look at his phone when asked his address. 

Team effort

Once they were sure the people in the store were the missing boy and his father, the police were called. 

Assistant manager Michele Lewis said staff stayed near them to keep an eye on their movements. 

"It was quite the team effort," Natasha Keeling, another manager at the store, said.

Police arrived not long after the call. The father was arrested at the store. The child's grandmother was arrested later near Saint-Paul, about 30 kilometres northwest of Moncton. 

Both have been extradited to the United States and face charges related to the alleged abduction. The boy was reunited with his mother on Nov. 2. 

Lewis watched a video of that reunion, calling it surreal to see. 

"It was wonderful," Lewis said. "[I was] so happy for the both of them."

Jolette said police don't have the names of the customers who originally alerted the store staff. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC. He can be reached at shane.magee@cbc.ca.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now