It was a little after 2 a.m. on Aug. 1 when Trooper Sean Lewis was making his overnight rounds at Logan Airport and came across a woman sitting in the US Airways baggage claim.
This was not unusual, a lone figure among the dormant luggage belts and the quiet hum of lights. Passengers miss rides. They spend the night between connecting flights. They arrive hours early for dawn departures.
Lewis made small-talk with the well-spoken woman, who had a pair of suitcases with her. He asked to see identification. As he left her, he radioed dispatch for a standard warrant check.
A call came back a moment later with what police call a confirmation. The woman, a registered nurse in Charlotte, had been reported missing to North Carolina authorities in October 2011. Lewis called for supervisors and circled back.
Let’s pause for a moment of honesty. When you think State Police at Logan, you think of surly troopers bellowing at beleaguered motorists whose only offense is lacking the fortitude to tell their relatives to take the express bus home. Ends up, that’s just a small part of what these troopers do. Please read on.
As dispatchers urgently contacted the missing person’s family, Sergeant Kathy Sampson, whose sturdy frame supports an outsized heart, casually chatted up the woman, gently steering the conversation to her situation. She had arrived in Boston by bus a few days before, she said. She had no money or phone.
Sampson told the woman that her family was worried sick and had been searching state-to-state. The woman said she didn’t want contact with them.
“We couldn’t legally hold her,” Sampson later said. So she did something that no training academy will ever teach. She bought the woman a $10 phone card from a vending machine and a $20 gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts and delivered them with one request: “Call home.”
After daylight broke and the airport came back to life, the woman’s mother and brother arrived on a flight from Florida, but the woman was nowhere to be found. All those months of fear, capped by hours of hope, and she was gone.
Sampson got a call at home and immediately headed to South Station on a hunch. She was searching platforms in civilian shorts and flip-flops when her phone rang again. A trooper spotted the woman in Terminal A, but was hesitant to approach.
Sampson raced to the airport, where she found the woman reading the Bible in a seat in baggage claim. “What’s going on?” Sampson casually asked.
“Something tells me I should have left last night,” the woman responded wryly.
Sampson, who has shattered ribs jumping on cargo ships and broken ankles racing through swamps, was in delicate territory. She asked if the woman had called her family. Not yet. They really want to see you, Sampson said. “My mother’s here, isn’t she?” the woman replied.
A text message was sent to another trooper. The mother was escorted inside. The troopers stepped aside, having no idea what might happen next.
Which is when the mother and daughter dissolved into a tearful hug and clung to each other amid the sobs. They left Logan together the next day.
The mother was on the phone Thursday explaining that her daughter vanished after leaving a cousin’s apartment in Queens last October, with no clue whether she was even alive. The mother had spent a month searching New York, but got little help from police. North Carolina authorities weren’t much better.
“I don’t have words,” she said of the Logan troopers. “I’m telling you, they are wonderful.”
I didn’t have the heart to ask what caused the estrangement, and she didn’t have the answers to give.
“She isn’t the kind of person to do that,” she said. “We’re taking our time getting her back together.”
For the mother, it was a miracle at Logan last week. For the troopers, it was all in a day’s work — a very good day’s work.