An alert waitress and a resourceful police dispatcher helped track down alleged child abusers after spotting something wrong at an Olive Garden in Kentucky, where the face of a young girl screamed that something was amiss.
Jordan Cooper, 21, said she immediately noticed pain and anguish in the face of a 20-month-old girl after seating a family of four at the restaurant on Sunday, setting off alarms in the expectant mother’s mind.
“The first time I walked around to the baby, she looked at me with a face that said ‘help,’ you know?” Cooper told WPSD. “Beat up — like I can’t even describe to you how bad she looked and how and why nobody else noticed it.”
Cooper then decided to set up a staged photo with other customers at a nearby table, getting a glimpse of the parents and two young children she initially noticed sitting behind them. That second couple then sent Cooper a photo of a man later identified as Mark Lee Pierce sitting in front of a young girl in a highchair, she told WPSD.
“I had slid them my number, and they sent [the photos] to me as soon as they walked out the door,” Cooper recalled.
Cooper, who doesn’t regularly work on Sundays, said she then called police and posted details of what she saw on Facebook.
“I had a couple that came in with a child that was [severely] beaten in the face,” Cooper wrote in the post, which has since been deleted. “Her face was black and blue all over. 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 also accused Pierce and his companion, later identified as Jessica Woodworth, of abruptly leaving the restaurant after realizing that she was watching them. She later snapped a photograph of the couple’s silver Dodge Caravan and included its license plate in her Facebook post, according to a screenshot obtained by WPSD.
“I couldn’t serve [the family] because my heart hurt so bad,” her post continued. “I called [Kentucky’s Department of Children and Family Services] and hopefully something gets done. He kept taking her to the bathroom when she cried and [acted] very aggressive towards her.”
Cooper’s post — which was eventually shared more than 49,000 times, according to WPSD — soon caught the eye of Aaron Caldwell, a childhood classmate of hers who now works as a police dispatcher in Metropolis, Illinois, just across the Ohio River.
Caldwell said he then used the information in Cooper’s post to track down Pierce and to find details on social media pertaining to Woodworth before getting in touch with police in Paris, Tennessee, where the couple lives.
Two children were later removed from the couple’s home and Woodworth and Pierce are now facing charges of aggravated child abuse and neglect, WPSD reports.
Pierce and Woodworth remained in custody in Tennessee as of late Wednesday on $200,000 bond each, according to WSIL. It’s unclear if they’ve hired attorneys.
A police report obtained by Yahoo Lifestyle indicates that investigators found the 20-month-old girl sleeping in the couple’s bedroom after being contacted by Caldwell, with bruises found on the girl’s jaw and hairline.
“I heard the conditions of the home were so horrific, a police officer had to collect himself outside,” Cooper told Yahoo.
Messages seeking additional comment from Cooper and Caldwell were not immediately returned Thursday, but Caldwell told WSIL that the experience showed him the importance of taking action.
“It just so happened that we knew each other and I’m a dispatcher,” Caldwell said of his connection to Cooper. “[Police] called me back at 4 a.m. and said they arrested both of them for aggravated child abuse and neglect and the kids are now in state custody.”
A spokesperson for Olive Garden, meanwhile, praised Cooper’s decision to act upon her instincts.
“We empower our team members to take action, which they believe is appropriate, whenever they see anyone in need,” spokesperson Hunter Robinson told The Post in an email. “This was a difficult situation, and Jordan’s actions were taken out of concern for the safety and welfare of a child.”