It’s a hot August day, and 12-year-old Ben Theriot is out shopping with his mom in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. As the pair walk through a parking lot, a nearby car catches the boy’s eye. And suddenly, he sprints towards the vehicle and starts bashing in the windshield. But while Ben may appear to be committing a serious crime, he will later be hailed a hero for his quick thinking.
Yes, to the untrained eye Ben may seem to be engaging in a needless act of vandalism – but this isn’t the full story. And thanks to his swift actions, the preteen will soon become famous throughout Oklahoma and beyond as news channels relay the astonishing tale of what happened to him on that sweltering summer’s day.
Yet Ben had never anticipated having to spring into action on that shopping trip. Talking to Tulsa’s Fox23 News in August 2019, he explained, “I didn’t think any of this was going to happen. I thought I was just going to go to Ross and just go buy some shoes or something.”
So, what exactly had motivated Ben to start smashing through the windshield of stranger’s a car in a baking-hot parking lot? And why had a nearby store worker been inspired to join in the melee with a clothing rail? Well, the remarkable story begins in Tulsa – the city where Ben was born and raised.
On August 12, 2019, you see, Ben was enjoying some quality time with his mother, Nikki Fields, who works at the Tulsa’s Red River Saloon. In fact, he’s one of four boys in the family, and all of the siblings were due to return to school in a matter of days’ time.
Consequently, Ben and Nikki were making preparations for the 12-year-old’s imminent entry into the seventh grade. And after the mom and her second-eldest son had parked up at Tulsa’s Highland Plaza Shopping Center, they made a beeline for the mall’s Ross Dress for Less outlet, since Ben apparently needed new footwear.
On the short walk across to the store, though, Nikki was reportedly alerted to a worrying sound coming from a nearby parked car. And the alarming noise prompted her into action. Nikki later explained to Oklahoma City-based NBC affiliate KFOR, “I just got on the phone, [and] I yelled for [Ben] to find anything in my car.”
Following his mother’s orders, then, Ben went back to her vehicle to pick out the right tool for the task at hand. And as it happens, the 12-year-old plumped for a ratchet strap – an object that’s more typically used for holding down large items in cars, towing trailers and securing materials at construction sites.
Then, after Ben had returned with the ratchet strap, he mulled over his options. And apparently, his first target was one of the car’s smaller passenger-side windows. The pre-teen didn’t intend to use the strap for any of its usual purposes, though; instead, he planned to smash through the vehicle’s glass.
But Ben would later recall that he didn’t put much thought into his scheme; he simply followed his instincts. Nikki, on the other hand, would later admit to being apprehensive about the situation, telling KWTV in August 2019, “I was scared because I don’t want to be in trouble.” She added, “[Ben] just jumped right into action and didn’t even hesitate.”
Unfortunately, however, Ben’s initial plan to break the side window seemingly didn’t work. And speaking to Fox23 News’ Sara Hart, the 12-year-old explained what he’d been trying to achieve. “You were trying to take the strap and actually hit the passenger side?” Hart asked. “Yeah, it hit about, like, right in the center, but it just cracked [the window] a little bit,” Ben revealed.
What’s more, Ben explained, “I started hitting the side window. [It] didn’t bust, [but it] bent it pretty badly.” And in an apparent attempt to ascertain the boy’s intentions at that moment, Hart went on to inquire, “So, your thoughts are then, ‘Maybe I can get in from the front?’”
That’s right: after Ben had failed to enter the car via the passenger window, he had decided to attack one of the vehicle’s windshields instead. He divulged, “I thought it would be a lot easier [to break the front windshield] because it’s bigger.” And, fortunately, this change in tactic would prove to be rather more successful.
During the interview, Hart pressed Ben for more details of how he had gone to work. The reporter asked, “And so, are you just like throwing [the ratchet strap], or what are you doing?” Ben recalled, “I swung it over my shoulder [and] hit [the windshield] right in the center. And then I hit it a couple more times, and then I climbed on the windshield.”
At around this time, though, a worker from one of the shopping center’s stores came out to offer her assistance. And the employee was apparently carrying a section of a clothing rack – just in case it might have been of any use to Ben, who was still desperately trying to smash his way through the car’s glass.
In fact, Ben ultimately gave up using the ratchet strap to break into the vehicle. As he later told Hart, he instead “stomped on [the windshield], and it cracked pretty badly again.” The boy added, “Then the [store worker] went and grabbed that hanger thing, and then I put the hook into the windshield and pulled it out. And then I unlocked [the car].”
But what had Ben and his mom heard and seen that had provoked them into interrupting their shopping trip? And why had Ben felt compelled to damage another person’s vehicle – an act, that to an unwitting bystander, might have looked like a crime? Well, Nikki and her son had noticed that there was someone alone in the car – and they appeared to be in distress, too.
Ben later told KFOR, “My mom heard a baby crying.” And taking into account the intense heat of the day and the vehicle’s apparently closed windows, the pair presumably had real fears for the child’s safety. So, while Nikki made a phone call, the 12-year-old embarked on his valiant rescue attempt by breaking through the car’s windshield.
In fact, Ben’s ability to spring right into action may just have saved a life. After he was able to unlock the car, you see, he and his mom were finally able to reach the hysterical child. And thankfully, the toddler was seemingly unharmed – despite his traumatic ordeal.
Yes, while the youngster was apparently red in the face and shaken by his experience, he wasn’t in any severe medical danger. There was no doubting, however, that the little guy had had a lucky escape. After all, according to Fox23 News, the heat index on that day in Tulsa was an astonishing 116 °F.
And sadly, too many minors have passed away as a result of being trapped in stiflingly hot cars. Data from San Jose State University’s Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, for instance, indicates that between 1998 and 2018 792 kids in the U.S. died in this way – which heartbreakingly averages out at 38 such deaths every year.
Yet regardless of the increase in public awareness campaigns surrounding the dangers of leaving youngsters in cars, deaths nonetheless still occur. In July 2019, for example, Phoenix and Luna Rodriguez passed away in New York City after their father had apparently accidentally locked them in his vehicle for several hours. The one-year-old twins reportedly had core body temperatures of 108 °F when they were discovered.
In August 2019, meanwhile, a man from Garland, Texas, allegedly forgot to drop his nine-month-old daughter at daycare. As a result, the child was in the back of a sweltering car for some time – until her father began to clean the vehicle at a local car wash. And that’s when the dad is said to have made the horrifying discovery.
Fortunately, several states – including Oklahoma – have enacted laws to help prevent such tragedies. The Sooner State’s Forget-Me-Not Vehicle Safety Act, for instance, was adopted in 2008, decreeing that kids under seven years old cannot be alone in a car “if the conditions including – but not limited to – extreme weather, inadequate ventilation or hazardous or malfunctioning components within the vehicle present a risk to the health or safety of the unattended child.”
Furthermore, 21 states have introduced so-called “Good Samaritan” regulations that permit a concerned passer-by to initiate a rescue attempt if an unattended child in a car appears to be in peril. Owing to such laws, then, Ben was well within his rights to break into the vehicle in the Tulsa parking lot.
And Tulsa Police Department’s Officer Jeanne Pierce confirmed as much, too. In August 2019 she told CBS affiliate KOTV, “Within minutes, that child could have passed out and become ill from a heat injury. Time was of the essence in that situation. We’d rather have a broken windshield than a child death. Any individual wouldn’t be in trouble with us in that situation because they saved the life of that child.” So what happened after Ben rescued the toddler?
Well, the child’s mother was apparently found inside a nearby shop. Ben would go on to recall how the mom hadn’t appeared particularly upset upon finding out that her son had been rescued. The 12-year-old revealed in an August 2019 interview with Tulsa World, “[The mother] didn’t cry or nothing. She just asked for her baby back, and [the police] said, ‘No.’”
According to WMBF-TV, the mom of the child was subsequently handed a fine of $250 – thanks to the Forget-Me-Not Vehicle Safety Act, as the boy was under seven years old at the time of the incident. And Officer Jeanne Pierce from the Tulsa Police Department revealed that this marked the first occasion on which the woman had contravened the state-wide law.
As the mom hadn’t been previously been picked up for similar misdemeanors, then, the authorities decided not to apprehend her on charges of neglect. The toddler was therefore left with his parent, although the local Department of Human Services are reported to be looking into the child’s care.
But if the incident had just been the result of a simple misunderstanding, it certainly didn’t stop people from passing judgement online. In fact, some of the reactions to the story were scathing. After Nikki posted about her and her son’s rescue attempt on Facebook, one user commented, “Poor baby. Some people shouldn’t have kids.”
Ben, on the other hand, has been hailed for his willingness to help save the child – not least by his own mom. Nikki told Fox23 News, “I’m just very proud of [Ben]. I’m glad he knew what to do.” And in her Facebook post, she even went so far as to label the preteen “a hero.”
But Nikki wasn’t the only person to recognize Ben’s part in the rescue, as Safe Kids Tulsa Area would go on to honor the youngster with a Badge of Courage certificate. The organization – a local offshoot of the international Safe Kids Worldwide – seeks to provide guidance and information to help stop children from being injured.
Handing Ben with his award, Safe Kids Tulsa Area coordinator Beth Washington said, “On behalf of Safe Kids Worldwide and Safe Kids Tulsa, we would like to present you with this Badge of Courage.” And Washington was also keen to emphasize that kids should never be alone in cars – even for a quick dash to the store.
Speaking to Fox23 News, Washington warned that in the case of the Tulsa child, just half an hour in the hot vehicle could have led to tragedy. Safe Kids Worldwide has claimed, too, that winding down a window may not have helped, either, as this would have had little effect on the internal temperature of the car.
And Washington gave credit where it was due while talking to the news station. She said, “This year so far, we have lost 34 children nationwide [after they were left in cars]. Fortunately, in Oklahoma, we haven’t lost any – and thanks to Ben. He for sure saved one of those children who could have been a statistic.”
Ben himself, meanwhile, has been rather modest about the praise that he’s received. Nevertheless, during a conversation with Fox23 News’ Mariah Ellis, he did admit that knowing he had saved a toddler’s life had made him “proud.” And when asked if he would leap into action again if needed, the boy claimed that he would.
But even though Ben’s story has naturally brought him attention from both local and national media, he never intended to seek out such recognition. He added to Fox23 News, “I never thought [that the rescue attempt] was going to happen at all. I just, I dunno, it all just happened.”
Still, that hasn’t stopped people from lauding Ben on social media. Responding to a KWTV Facebook post about the story, one internet user commented, “Kudos and praise to the 12-year-old who has more sense and compassion than an adult mother.” Another individual, meanwhile, seemingly addressed Ben, writing, “Awesome job. Glad you saved that baby.”
And one word in particular continued to crop up in the comments section of the KWTV post. “You are my hero,” one woman said to the 12-year-old. Another echoed that sentiment by writing, “This is a great young man. He is a hero.” They weren’t the only Facebook users to bestow that honor upon Ben, either.
But Ben has maintained that he didn’t set out to be applauded by strangers or hailed a hero. Instead, as Ellis claimed in her Fox23 News segment, the boy believed that his daring rescue mission was “really just about doing the right thing.” And no one can doubt that Ben achieved exactly that under the circumstances.