Kenneth Parker noticed that something was off.
After a year on the job, Parker could spot anything out of the ordinary in the neighborhoods he sees weekly on his garbage collection route in Durham.
But when he saw a little boy wandering alone in his underwear on a Friday morning, he knew something was very wrong.
Parker and fellow Durham Solid Waste Management workers Harold Byrd and KeShaun Sloan stopped their work. They approached the boy and noticed that a little girl followed behind him near a wooded area in the north Durham neighborhood.
“We’ve been on the same route for a year-plus,” Byrd, 34, told The News & Observer of the June 3 incident. “Once we seen the kids, we knew something was out of place, something was wrong.”
Worried about the toddlers, they looked after them and tried to talk to them, though the children couldn’t speak very well yet. They knocked on several doors to see if their home was nearby, and while the children waited at the truck, they were given water and some candy.
“We just tried to do what we could as a team to comfort the kids until we contacted (Durham Police) and let them take more control over the situation,” Byrd recalled.
Now, the city is publicly recognizing the trio for their actions that helped reunite the pair of lost children with their family.
“It is particularly gratifying when our staff go above and beyond the scope of their normal daily activities because they saw a need, because they saw someone who needed help,” said Durham deputy city manager Bo Ferguson at a Durham City Council meeting on Tuesday. “Certainly that day, at the least, you provided care to two young children who needed it. That was in and of itself an accomplishment, but it’s certainly possible that you prevented much greater harm to those kids that might have befallen them.”
The three men, standing next to each other, smiled as they were asked to stand during the meeting to be recognized and the audience clapped upon hearing the story.
“We all come from big families,” said Parker, 39. “Getting praise was the last thing that we were thinking about.”
Three unassuming heroes
The workers said they were concerned when they found the unattended children roaming by the woods because of how removed the area was from the residential street.
Neighbors also told them that only elderly residents lived on the street and that they didn’t believe any children lived there.
The sanitation workers say they owe their encounter with the lost children to fate. They normally work Monday through Thursday, but were working that Friday because they had been off for Memorial Day.
“Me and Keshaun was talking … like, ‘Man, you know what? We was meant to be here,‘” said Parker. “We don’t normally work on a Friday, and that time that we were coming through the area, we normally don’t come through at that time.”
Sloan, 21, said finding the kids was “unexpected.”
“It was a good thing that we was there,” Sloan said. “Because like he said, who knows what could have happened?”
Once police arrived, the workers said the officers immediately picked up the children in a caring manner and took them to find their family.
In the days that followed, the workers were worried about the children and regularly asked their supervisor whether he had heard an update from police.
They were relieved to hear that police were able to take the children home later that day.
The Durham Police Department told The N&O that officers responded to the workers’ call at Stone Hill Court, a small residential block off of North Duke Street. Police did not provide further details on why the children were outside that morning and unattended.
The three unassuming men acknowledge they’re a little camera shy, and didn’t expect the praise they received.
They were just doing their jobs that Friday morning and were at the right place at the right time.
But also, Byrd said, their actions were simply “common sense.”
“Because it’s common sense when you have a heart,” Byrd said. “You’re a human being and you have any sense.”
This story was originally published July 28, 2022 5:45 AM.
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