(CNN) — During her morning jog in north Houston, Hong Nguyen stumbled across an unusual sight: a baby girl partially hidden in the bushes near the side of the road.
Strapped into a car seat on the ground, the 8-month-old child was crying.
“I called 911,” Nguyen said. “And I stayed there with the baby.”
The chance encounter Monday in an unpopulated area near an industrial zone may have saved the little girl’s life.
She had been missing for about six hours after a man stole the car she was in from outside a gas station in the early hours. Her mother had stopped to buy a soda, leaving the car keys in the ignition.
Bitten by ants
Authorities had been frantically searching for the baby, identified by CNN affiliate KTRK as Genesis Hailey.
The car was recovered a few blocks from the gas station about two hours after it was stolen. But there was no sign of the child or her car seat.
Police said Genesis appeared to be in good health when she was found, apart from being hungry and suffering what appeared to be several ant bites.
“I did spot a couple of ants on the baby and I was able to get them off,” said Albert Pizana, the officer who responded to the jogger’s emergency call.
‘Middle of nowhere’
But police officials said they couldn’t comprehend the decision to leave the baby in such an isolated place.
“I don’t know what kind of an animal would do this to a child,” said Lt. H. Lopez, of the Houston Police Department’s homicide division. “Leaving the child in the middle of nowhere.”
Police officials also faced questions from reporters about the mother’s decision to leave her child in the car with the engine on.
They said she was in the gas station’s store for a matter of seconds before she saw the thief jump in the car and start driving away with the door still open.
He was in such a rush that he backed the car into the railing of the gas pump before he sped off with his infant passenger in the back.
The mother ran out of the store but wasn’t quick enough to catch the car.
“It’s a good reminder for the public not to leave their vehicles running, especially with a baby inside,” Lopez said.
Swaddled in a uniform
Police are still looking for the suspect, a man in his late teens or early 20s.
It’s unclear exactly when the baby was taken from the car and put in the bushes. Police said it’s possible she had been left there since the early hours of Monday.
Pizana said Genesis was crying intermittently when he and his partner got to her.
They took her inside their car, and he swaddled her in his uniform shirt to try to calm her. His partner retrieved her pacifier for her.
Pizana declined to speculate what could have happened to the baby if the jogger hadn’t taken that particular route Monday morning.
“It makes you want to go home and hug your kids even tighter,” he said.