Barb Gusse had just come in from tending to the birds that frequent her Brooklyn Center, Minn., yard when an Amber Alert flashed across her phone.
A white Jeep Grand Cherokee with a 1-year-old boy in the back seat had been stolen two hours before in north Minneapolis.
The avid bird watcher grabbed her binoculars and zeroed in on the license plate of the SUV idling in a church parking lot across the street.
Realizing it was a match, Gusse immediately called police, who rescued the boy.
"My heart went to my feet," she said Sunday, Feb. 7. "I was shaking so bad I couldn't hold a cup."
Gusse, a retired Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board employee and grandmother of nine, made the connection shortly after the alert was issued 2:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6. Police say the theft happened around 12:40 p.m. after the boy's mother strapped her son in the car seat, then ran inside a house. When she returned, the vehicle was gone.
That afternoon, Gusse had noticed the white Jeep in the parking lot of Cross of Glory Lutheran Church.
"It was running, you could see the exhaust because it was so cold," she said. But she didn't think much of it at the time and went back inside to escape the tundra and call her daughter, Katye Stolp.
"We were just talking and the Amber Alert came on and buzzed on all our phones," said Stolp, who lives in Elk River, Minn.
Gusse got off the phone, grabbed her binoculars to check the license plate number and there it was: CRY-661.
As soon as she saw a squad car pull into the parking lot, she bundled up and rushed outside. "I could hear that baby crying and you know where my heart went, to the ground. I started shaking and crying," she said.
Still emotional 24 hours after making the call, Gusse said she did what she hopes anyone would do.
"Honey, I'm no hero. I'm just a grandmother," she said.
Stolp said she is so thankful for her mother being alert and acting in that moment.
"She was crying and saying that I was thinking about my own grandchildren, if something like that happened to them I would be beside myself," she said.
The case remains under investigation and no arrests have been made, said John Elder, spokesman for Minneapolis Police Department. The suspect faces charges of auto theft and kidnapping, he added.
"This is really exemplary of what happens when the community assists and we are eternally grateful for the 911 caller advising us of where the vehicle was," he said. "The fact that she was alert and willing to reach out is beyond appreciated." The little boy was "all smiles" when officers found him, Elder said. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution.
Elder said the end result is heartwarming instead of tragic. With such dangerously cold temperatures, the baby could have died if the car ran out of gas, he said.
"I'm so thankful that he was OK, that he's with mom and dad," Gusse said. "That's all that matters."
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