A 2-year-old watched his mother drive off in the dark Sunday night before bursting into tears in the parking lot of a Macon restaurant.
Police later arrested and charged his mother, 23-year-old Kalandra Di’Shaun Hightower, of Pinefield Drive, with cruelty to children.
Hightower posted bond Monday evening and was released from the Bibb Law Enforcement Center.
Those who found the child could not fathom how someone could abandon him.
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“Just crazy, man. I was shocked,” said Ibrahim Oudat, owner of Shark’s Fish and Chicken Chicago Style restaurant, who found the toddler in his parking lot at 3485 Mercer University Drive. “He was crying. He was looking around for some help, so I came back. I hugged him.”
The restaurant’s cameras showed a woman pull into the parking lot, stop by the exit sign, remove something from the back seat, set it down and drive off.
Oudat’s own children, ages 10, 8 and 4, heard the crying after the woman pulled away on the busy road at the back entrance of the Macon Mall. The boy was hidden from oncoming traffic by some thick bushes at the entrance of the parking lot.
Oudat took him inside and told restaurant worker Valita Taylor to call 911.
Taylor, who is a mother, said she could not imagine abandoning her children.
“I don’t know how deep a person has to be going through some stuff to put their kid out on the dark street and ride off and leave them and not think anything about it,” Taylor said.
At least a half-hour later, two women pulled into the parking lot -- Hightower and the boy’s grandmother, Cassandra Rhodes.
“They came back, zooming in here, and they were shocked to see four police cars already here,” Oudat said.
Rhodes was very upset Hightower left the child behind.
“She was very distraught,” Taylor said.
The state Division of Family and Children Services placed the boy and his younger brother in Rhodes’ care, according to a news release from the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.
He was napping on the couch in Rhodes’ living room Monday afternoon as his grandmother and aunt were trying to make sense of what happened.
“I just think Kalandra was depressed, and she was going through some problems, and she needed help,” Rhodes said. “I do have to say Kalandra is a good mother, and I know she loves her kids. And to all the folks who are talking about her, even on Facebook and social media, y’all got it wrong. My baby’s just got problems, and she needs help.”
What really got to Oudat was watching the boy’s reaction on the surveillance images.
“This is not right. We work so hard for our children,” Oudat said. “If you don’t want no babies, don’t make no babies.”
Oudat is thankful he and his children had stopped at the restaurant and heard the boy’s cries.
“It’s everything in God’s hand,” he said. “If I hadn’t been there, if he wasn’t kidnapped, he would have been hit by anyone coming into the parking lot. That boy could have gotten killed. He was lucky.”
Hightower appeared before a Bibb County magistrate judge Monday afternoon, who kept bond at $8,450. Hightower posted bond fees totaling $9,950 and was released Monday evening, according to jail records.
She is not allowed to contact her children and cannot have a weapon while she remains on bond.
Hightower plans to stay with another family member while Rhodes cares for the children at their home.
Anyone with information in the case is urged to call Macon Regional Crimestoppers at 877-68-CRIME.