Police are praising a sharp-eyed Olive Garden waitress who called them when she noticed signs of abuse at one of her tables.
Jordan Cooper, a 21-year-old server at a location in Paducah, Kentucky, seated a family in her section last Sunday. The group included a man and woman, an 11-year-old girl, and a female toddler.
The waitress told local news that she had a bad feeling about the family from the moment they walked in.
“I first walked around to the baby. She looked at me with a face that said help,” Cooper told WPSD.
“The baby was sitting in a highchair with a blanket over her head,” she described to Yahoo. “When the blanket came off, her face had a lot of black-and-blue bruises.”
The waitress also caught the man shoving breadsticks into the baby’s mouth, saying, “You’d better eat this.”
Thinking quickly, Cooper alerted her coworkers, who managed to photograph the family in secret with the help of another table of customers.
Cooper also noticed the man making a pair of trips to the men’s room, with the crying baby in tow but no diaper bag. On his third trip, Cooper asked him, “What are you doing?” The man immediately rushed back to his table and asked for the bill.
But Cooper – who is eight months pregnant – followed the pair into the parking lot and copied down their license plate number. At the same time, she saw the couple speed off without strapping their baby into a car seat.
The server called the police and the Department of Children and Family Services, but her picture of the couple tracked them down even faster when it was seen on Facebook by a 911 operator.
The pair were arrested the same evening, and charged with child abuse and aggravated assault.
“I heard the conditions of the home were so horrific, a police officer had to collect himself outside,” Cooper shared with Yahoo.
The toddler was treated in the emergency room, and both children were taken into the state’s custody.
Paris Police Department Investigator Derrek Colley said that Cooper “did an outstanding job” by acting on her instinct.
“If she hadn’t noticed something and done all that, we wouldn’t have gotten the information.”
For Cooper, who says she was so worried she couldn’t sleep after her shift that night, her good deed for those children was its own reward.
“It makes me feel good to know these children will be better off,” she said.
It was a stroke of good luck that Cooper was even in the restaurant that night – she usually takes Sundays off to care for her niece and nephew.
As of Thursday, both parents remain in custody in Tennessee, with their bond set at $200,000 each.