COTTAGE GROVE — A carjacking and child abduction. A woman left bleeding by the side of the road.
It's safe to say that Christina Kelley wasn't expecting to encounter such tribulation when she set out on her morning drive.
Police credit Kelley's compassion and quick thinking for helping them rescue two girls aged 3 and 1 during a June 7 Amber Alert in Cottage Grove.
Kelley stopped to help the girls' mother, who had been ambushed and beaten by her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Lo, prior to the kidnapping.
Cottage Grove director of public safety Pete Koerner presented Kelley with a Citizen Commendation at the Aug. 21 Cottage Grove City Council meeting.
"Here we have a victim bleeding and screaming and we have people driving by not knowing what to do," Koerner said. "Luckily, we had Christina stop."
Around 6:30 a.m. June 7, the victim strapped her daughters into the minivan and backed out of the driveway. The man was hiding in the back of the van. He allegedly lunged forward, assaulted her and commandeered the steering wheel.
Kelley was driving on Hadley Avenue when she saw a tan 2004 Toyota Sierra minivan idling on the shoulder.
"Something seemed off," she said.
When the driver saw Kelley, he sped away. The woman, who had managed to escape, told Kelley that her children were in the van.
Kelley tried to calm the woman down and helped her into her vehicle. She called 911. She put her phone on speaker so the woman could provide information to the dispatcher.
"I told her we were going to get her kids back," she said.
She tried to follow the van but the man was driving way too fast, she said.
Meanwhile, thanks to her 911 call, hundreds of Cottage Grove residents were notified via text of the Amber Alert. Two local schools went on modified lockdown. Lo was taken into custody after a nearly four-hour manhunt that included a helicopter, four K-9 units, multiple police agencies, the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service.
Without Kelley's intervention, precious time could have been lost while the victim sought help, Koerner said.
"It's unbelievable that we had a successful resolution in that amount of time," he said. "Who knows if she would have had to walk another mile to get to a gas station to make a phone call, to go to a house, (at) 6:30 in the morning?"
The woman had obtained an Order for Protection against Lo on May 7 after a hearing in Hennepin County Court. She told police they had ended their five-year relationship two or three months ago. She said she was staying at her parents’ home in Cottage Grove.
Lo remains jailed on charges of two counts of kidnapping with a firearm, assault with a firearm, and violation of an order for protection while in possession of a dangerous weapon.
Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, presented Kelley with a certificate of appreciation.
"It's often when humanity is at its worst that we see citizens at their best," Evans said.
The audience included Kelley's husband Zachariah, her son Patrick, 6, and daughter Madison, 3.
Asked for a comment by Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey, Kelley's response was modest and matter-of-fact.
"I didn't do it for the recognition," she said. "I did it to save those kids."