— If they hadn’t known it already, a young couple learned just how powerful a parent’s love for a child can be in a dark and desolate gas-station parking lot on a cold night three days before Thanksgiving.
And if he didn’t know it before, the man who tried to steal Melanie and Aaron Richman’s 1997 Pontiac Grand Am learned the same lesson in the same Kansas City lot.
The Richmans’ 6-month-old daughter, Samantha, was in the backseat of that car and there was no way they were going to let a carjacker drive off with her, they told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Friday.
Driving their Pontiac from Colorado to a new home in Missouri, the Richmans were leading a convoy of relatives driving rented vans when they stopped at a Phillips 66 gas station for one last break in their long journey. Leaving their car running to keep their daughter warm, the Richmans stepped away from the car briefly to talk to their relatives.
It was just long enough for a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt to jump in the driver’s seat of the car and pop it into reverse. Melanie Richman’s mother yelled “Go! Go! Go!” when she saw what was unfolding, and the chase was on. What happened next was caught on the gas station’s security cameras.
Melanie Richman, 22, cocked her right elbow in an attempt to break the passenger-side window. Aaron Richman, also 22, gave his wife the push she needed to provide the force to break the window. As Melanie was being dragged by the moving car, Aaron jumped through the open passenger window and confronted the carjacker.
“As soon as that window shattered, my goal was to just get in there as fast as I could and get him out,” Aaron Richman told Lauer. “I started kicking him on the right side of his face as hard as I could.”
While Aaron was kicking the man, Melanie lost her grip and fell to the pavement. Her brother can be seen on the tape chasing the car as it disappears around a building. When the Pontiac re-enters the frame, it can be seen crashing into an embankment in the distance.
The carjacker exited the vehicle and ran off. He remains at large.
“He didn’t say anything to me at all,” Aaron said.
It was unclear whether the man intended to steal the car, the baby, or both. But what was clear to the Richmans was that if they had been unable to stop him from leaving the parking lot with Samantha, they might never have seen her again.
Although there was broken glass from the shattered window in her child seat, Samantha was not hurt. She was crying when Melanie handed her to the baby’s grandmother.
Except for a badly bruised elbow and a bump on her head from the fall to the pavement, Melanie Richman was not seriously hurt in the incident. Feeding Samantha from a bottle, Melanie admitted to Lauer that she still feels shaken by what happened.
“It scares me every night. I’m terrified of the dark,” said Melanie, a college student. “I’m afraid he might want revenge.”
As for Aaron, the incident was a wake-up call.
“I have my guard up 125 percent of the time now. There is no rest for me basically,” he said. “I have to make sure my family is safe at all times.”
The Richmans hope their story will serve as a cautionary tale for other new parents, as well as a testament to the enormous power of a parent’s love for their offspring and the seemingly superhuman strength people sometimes get in a crisis.
“Pretty much I would have just done everything different,” Aaron said. “But I’m grateful that everything we did, we did fast and instinctively.”