A waitress from Paducah, Kentucky, is being called a hero after she saw something something suspicious going on with her customers and made the choice to say something to authorities. Jordan Cooper was waiting tables on Sunday night when she noticed that a toddler eating with her parents looked "beaten in the face" and the man who appeared to be her dad was exhibiting what she considered to be questionable behavior. Thinking quickly, Cooper managed to get a picture of the young girl, an older child and the two adults they came with, as well as a license plate number, and reported it to authorities.
The waitress knew she needed to take action when noticed something off with one of her smallest customers.
Cooper was waitressing at the Olive Garden when a family sat down to eat, according to Buzzfeed News. Immediately, Cooper saw that something was wrong with one of the two children sitting at the table — a young girl "who couldn't have been no older than 2 years old." In a post that has since been deleted on Facebook, she described the child as "severely beaten in the face. Her face was was black and blue all over."
“I first walked around to the baby," Cooper later told WPSD. "She looked at me with a face that said help."
Horrifyingly, she then witnessed the adults being forceful with the young girl as they ate.
"The guy in this picture was force feeding her food down her throat and grabbing her by her shirt and getting in her face," Cooper explained on Facebook. "She couldn't have been more than 2 years old."
"He kept taking her to the bathroom when she cried and was acting very aggressive towards her," she added.
That is when Cooper, who is pregnant, decided to form a plan to capture the couple on camera with the hope they might be able to save the children. She decided to take a photo of diners sitting near the family, making sure to sneak a shot of the girl and the adults behind them in the shot.
She then asked the group who she was pretending to photograph to send her the picture. "I had slid them my number, and they sent [the photos] to me as soon as they walked out the door," she explained to WPSD.
"I can’t even describe to you how bad [the toddler] looked,” she added, “and how and why nobody noticed it.”
The adults with the children started to notice Cooper eying them, which is when they tried to pay their check and quickly leave.
Cooper told reporters that once the adults started to get suspicious that they were being monitored, they tried to hit the road, but the waitress followed them out of the restaurant, took their license plate number and called 911.
"I immediately got home and plugged my phone up,” she said. “I could not just not know what was going to happen to her.”
She then posted the photo she had taken to Facebook, along with a partial plate number, and asked her social media friends to help her find the girl's parents.
Luckily, her planned worked. "My phone would not just stop going off,” she said. The post was shared over 14,000 times.
One of the people who saw her photo was Aaron Caldwell, a 911 dispatcher for the Metropolis Police Department in Illinois.
Caldwell reached out to Cooper and told her that he wanted to help. "I got everything so I could run him and find who he was," Caldwell told reporters. "I found that and ended up contacting Paris Police Department, Tennessee.”
He also told Buzzfeed News that people messaged Cooper and identified the man in the photo as 33-year-old Mark Pierce. Within a half hour, Caldwell found an address for Pierce and called police to ask them to do a welfare check at his home. Police reportedly arrived at Pierce's home around 11:45 p.m. and found him, the girl's mother, Jessica Woodworth, 36, and two children.
"They observed bruising on the child that they believed to be abuse," Paris police investigator Derrek Colley described. Police took the girl — who they've come to learn is about 20 month old — to a hospital to be checked out, and arrested Piece and Woodworth on charges of aggravated child abuse and neglect.
The 11-year-old was taken to her father's house in Illinois and the younger girl has been taken into the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Pierce is not the father of either of the children. Woodworth told police she and Pierce had met online and had only been dating and living together for about three to four months. When police investigated, they discovered Pierce had been convicted of child abuse in 2008.
The couple told authorities they had stopped at the restaurant on the way back home from picking up the 11-year-old from her father's house. The two are being held on $20,000 bail each.
Cooper is being praised for her quick thinking and willingness to do the right thing.
"The team effort that went into that was great," Colley said. "I wish there was more citizens that would observe something like that and actually notify authorities."
Caldwell added that it was teamwork that allowed them to track the family down across state lines. "We never really have this kind of an outcome. Sometimes you can't find people — that's what sucks about the job," he said.
On Facebook, Cooper addressed the praise she's been receiving online and wrote that she doesn't "want to be thanked for doing something I would hope most would do. It’s our job as humans to protect these young children."
"As far as I know, the oldest child is in great care now and the baby is in state custody so our hearts can now be at rest," she wrote and thanked her online community for helping her track down the family. "Thank you guys so much for helping me get the word out there on finding those people and getting them kids into a safe environment."
This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.