Oregon dad describes panic of watching car thief drive off with daughter, 2, in back seat


The day started like any other for the Stevens family in Northeast Portland. Will Stevens, 41, was getting his 5-year-old daughter, Zelda, ready for kindergarten around 7:15 a.m. when his wife, Sarah Hammer Stevens, went outside to put their youngest daughter, 2-year-old Thora, in her car seat in the back of their Subaru. The couple had taken to warming up their car as the weather grew colder in Portland this month.

Hammer Stevens, 41, briefly returned inside to get a pair of shoes and socks for the 2-year-old, leaving the car on.

A moment later, the couple stepped outside together and saw their car backing out of the driveway.

“At first I thought Thora had somehow gotten out of her car seat and into the front and put it into gear, because that was kind of the only thing that made sense in my brain,” her father said. “But then I saw someone in the driver’s seat.”

Stevens said he chased after the moving vehicle, ripped open the driver’s side door and yelled at the person driving – a young man in a black beanie – that there was a child inside the car. But the car sped off, he said.

He was calling 911 when a neighbor who saw him in distress offered to drive him in the direction of his stolen Subaru.

Meanwhile, 34-year-old Danielle Tran was getting ready to take her 3-year-old daughter to preschool at about 7:20 a.m. when she saw a dark blue Subaru Outback zoom west on Northeast San Rafael Street traveling about 35 or 40 mph.

Shrugging off the speeding driver as a person late for work, Tran said she put her daughter in the backseat and started driving. She was approaching Northeast 113th Avenue around 7:25 a.m. when she saw a little girl about the same age as her daughter running at the side of the road without shoes.

Tran pulled over, got out of her car and approached the girl to ask her what was going on.

“She was just crying for her mommy, so I scooped her up and looked around, but nobody was there,” Tran said.

Tran said she went back to her car to call the police. When she looked up from her seat, she saw an officer standing by her window.

“It was perfect timing,” she said.

Tran was telling the officer how she found the girl when Stevens arrived. In shock, he got out of the car and went to Thora.

“It was a relief – it was the only thing we were thinking of,” he said.

Tran said she was relieved as well.

“I just can’t believe somebody would take a car with a little toddler in it,” she said.

Stevens said he and his wife took Thora home, where she immediately started playing with toys, he said. She was a bit cold, but seemed to be “in good spirits,” he said.

The couple will no longer leave their car while it’s warming up and plan to attach tracking devices to their vehicles, Stevens said.

“I’ve had a car stolen before and it’s inconvenient,” he said. “But my bigger concern is I don’t want someone else to be warming up a car with a kid or a pet or anything valuable or precious to them in the car.”

Later on Thursday, a Gresham police officer spotted the dark blue 2017 Subaru Outback near Southeast Morrison Terrace and 202nd Avenue, Portland police said. No suspect was in the car, they said.

The abduction was the most recent in a string of incidents in which Portland-area thieves have stolen a car with a child inside.

On July 27, 2022, a father left his minivan running in the parking lot of the Oregon Dog Rescue in Tualatin to exchange puppies with a friend outside the business. His then 9-month-old was sleeping in the back seat. A man, Marcus Paul, jumped into the minivan and drove off. About a half-hour later, a woman found Keyser’s baby on the ground, near the edge of a steep slope by Barclay Park.

In September 2022, Portland police found a 7-year-old girl asleep in her family’s stolen Honda Civic in Southeast Portland, almost four hours after someone stole the car from the U-Haul lot at Southeast 49th Avenue and Powell Boulevard with the girl inside. Martinez’s parents had briefly gotten out of their Honda shortly before 7 p.m. on Sept. 18, 2022, leaving the car running and the key inside while their daughter slept in the back.

Portland police asked anyone with with video footage of the car or suspect to contact detectives at 503-823-0400 or crimetips@police.portlandoregon.gov.