Hot Cars: A Mother's Plea to Keep Car Doors Locked

Year after year, stories about kids left in hot cars make national headlines. The seemingly impossible act of forgetting a child in a back seat can, and does, happen to the most dedicated, loving and devoted parents and caregivers.

But that’s not Sydney's story. Sydney's mom, Jenny Stanley, never left any of her kids alone in a hot car. One scenario Jenny hadn’t envisioned, however, was one of her kids getting into a hot car alone.

This Georgia mother is urging families to keep their car doors locked, after the devastating loss of her daughter, Sydney. Read how Jenny is educating parents and caregivers in an effort to prevent other hot car deaths.

The daughter of Jenny Stanley, Sydney inspired her mom to raise awareness about hot car deaths.

By: Jenny Stanley, mother of Sydney Stanley

It was a regular Sunday in August, and my family and I started the day at church. As we were leaving, my 6-year-old daughter, Sydney, made sure to bring home the craft she’d been working on in Sunday school.

As we finished lunch at home, Sydney asked if she could play at a friend’s house. It was something my social butterfly did practically every day. With our permission, she walked next door to her best friend’s house. My husband and my son, Mason, tended to projects around the house, and my other son, Logan, and I headed to the grocery store.

Halfway through our shopping trip, I called the house and asked Mason to bring his sister home. But he didn’t find her at the neighbor’s house. When Mason called to tell me, my first thought was, “She knows to ask for permission before heading to a different house!”

Our quiet, suburban neighborhood was tight-knit; you never knew how many extra kids you’d have at your dinner table. So, it was logical to think she had gone to someone else’s house. I asked Mason to find whose house she’d decided to visit, and call me back with an update.

When Mason called back, I had a nearly full grocery cart. “She’s not at any of those houses,” he said. I left the cart where it was, and rushed home with a tingling feeling of panic in my chest.

On the way, I got another phone call from Mason. This time, I could barely understand what he was saying. But the first thing I heard was, “Mom, we found her. She’s very blue.”

Sydney had gotten into the back seat of our SUV—which was parked in our driveway—and had been overtaken by heat. That’s where they found her, unresponsive and blue. She never woke up; she died of a heatstroke that day.

We later pieced together what most likely had happened. Sydney went next door to play, but, after finding an empty house, she headed home. Remembering the craft she’d left in the car after church, she had decided to retrieve it.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve asked myself, “What if the car door had been locked?”

We miss our Sydney every minute of every day. Somewhere along our grief journey, I stopped questioning, and instead, I started sharing our living nightmare to educate other parents and caregivers.

So, I beg you:

  • Never leave your car unlocked if there’s even a slight chance a child may be nearby.
  • Teach your kids to never go into a car alone. Even if you don’t have kids, know that your car could be tempting to a curious child.
  • Never assume kids know not to get into a car alone—regardless of how old they may be.

How quickly cars can reach unsafe temperatures

Keep in mind that it’s never safe to leave anyone (animals included) in a car alone, even for a brief moment. A car’s internal temperature can get dangerously high in a matter of minutes.

Each time you get out of the car, always follow these 3 steps:

  1. Check your front and back seats
  2. Make sure you have your keys in hand
  3. Lock all car doors

For more about heat safety, learn the signs of heat-related health conditions, tips to prevent dehydration, and hot car death causes and prevention strategies, all from our safety experts.

If your child has an injury, or is showing signs of illness, call your doctor or visit an urgent care center. If your child has a life-threatening injury or illness, is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, call 911 and/or visit an emergency department immediately.