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Carjacked: A mother's worst nightmare

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By Jenny Hartley

He has my children.

"All you can yell is, 'He has my children,'" said carjacking survivor April Deese, 29. She screamed that as a man stole her Honda Odyssey van with her sons still inside and headed down Main Street last week.

Deese took her sons bowling and out to eat while her husband, Ryan, attended a men's night at Second Baptist Church on May 29. After supper, she and the boys went to Kmart.

Deese was buckling her sons, Parker, 4, and Marshall, 2, into their car seats in the Kmart parking lot about 7:30 p.m. when the man approached her. She had a bad feeling immediately, she said.

A mother's nightmare

First, the man demanded money at knifepoint. Then he decided to steal her van. Deese wasn't going to give up without a fight.

She tried to get the boys out of the car seats. She made a scene. She paid attention to what the man was wearing. She even recalled an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on self-defense, where she learned that it's dangerous to allow a kidnapper to take you to a second location.

Deese's screams caught the attention of Edward and Anna McFarland, who were in the parking lot of Arby's.

Edward McFarland ran over to help.

According to a Lancaster Police Department incident report, McFarland tried to open the driver's side door to stop the carjacker, while Deese struggled to get her boys out of the van.

The carjacker panicked and began backing out of the parking place.

"I almost had them (the boys) out of the car," Deese said. "They were unbuckled. I was holding onto to the seats. I would die for my children. It's just instinct."

The carjacker drove off, with Deese clinging to the second-row captain's chairs in the van, with the passenger side door still open. But she couldn't hold on any longer, and fell off the van in front of Arby's.

"Marshall didn't really understand what was going on, but Parker was yelling for me," Deese said. "What you remember most is that your two children are looking at you."

The van ran over Deese's left leg, which is now black and blue from mid-calf to mid-thigh. Miraculously, it didn't break any bones.

Other people immediately came to Deese's aid, from Arby's and Kmart. Witnesses called 911 and city police and county sheriff's deputies were able to respond almost immediately. Other bystanders jumped into their cars and tried to follow the van.

According to police, the carjacker drove to Frank Street and Rose Lane and abandoned the van, the children still inside.

Police began to receive calls about the van parked in the road, with the children inside.

Neighborhood residents took the children out of the van and held them, waiting for help from police. Other neighbors told police where the carjacker ran.

Although it probably seemed like an eternity for Deese, the time between the carjacking and the carjacker's arrest was about 10 to 15 minutes, said Lancaster Police Sgt. Kristen Grant.

Grant questioned Deese in the Kmart parking lot, asking for information about the van so officers could get a bulletin out on the radio and look for it. Deese was distraught, but remained clear-minded enough to answer Grant's questions.

"She kept her wits about her," Grant said. "That was a chaotic situation. I admire her. She's a strong woman."

Giving thanks

Deese is grateful to the McFarlands for trying to help her. It's hard to talk about them without getting emotional, she said.

"I could just squeeze them to pieces," Deese said. "I owe a lot to them. They are my heroes."

She's thankful for the officers who responded so quickly, and the Lancaster County Emergency Medical Services workers who calmed her in the ambulance on the way to the Springs Memorial Hospital emergency room.

Her church family from Second Baptist came to the ER to comfort her.

"We could have had church in the waiting room that night," Deese said, with a smile.

Then there are the nameless good Samaritans, who chased the van, who prayed for her, who held her children.

"Parker told me, 'That lady was nice. She held me,'" Deese said. "I don't know who they are. I hope they see this and know how grateful I am. Everyone has been absolutely wonderful to us."

Deese said Parker has been asking why "that man" doesn't like her. She's had to explain to him that there are bad people in the world. But she knows there are still good people out there, too.

Deese has nerve damage in her leg, which may never get better.

Phillip Keith Sims, 29, of 3346 Pageland Highway, has been charged in the incident. He is charged with carjacking, possession of a weapon during a violent crime, two counts of kidnapping and resisting arrest.

Sims is denying that he had anything to do with the incident, Grant said.

But Deese said God has given her a good peace. She isn't angry at her children's kidnapper.

"I think right now, I'm more appreciative that he didn't hurt my children," Deese said. "I'm glad I'm at that point.

"God was in it – how does a 4,000-pound vehicle roll over you and not break a bone?" Deese said. "There will be some hard days, but God will provide through all of it. We're very blessed. It just makes you squeeze your children a little tighter each night."

Click here to read about Phillip Keith Sims' arrest record. 

Click here to read tips on how you can avoid being a victim of an attack in public.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at 283-1151