Imagine you’re simply going about your job one day when all of a sudden, something happens that makes you take notice. What do you do? Do you mind your own business? Do you get someone to deal with it? Or do you take it upon yourself to act? For Jordan Cooper, 21, a part-time server at Olive Garden in Paducah, Kentucky, on the border with Illinois, the choice was clear. Cooper came in for a Sunday evening shift, and her courage and decency changed the fate of two children. Cooper was given a table with Mark Lee Pierce, 33, and his girlfriend Jessica Woodworth, 36, who had an 11-year-old girl and a toddler with them. From the get-go, Cooper knew something was badly wrong about the scene. She was eight months pregnant at the time and was spending her weeks taking care of her sister’s two small children.
When she saw the kids at the table, Cooper couldn’t believe how mistreated they looked. Though the couple had tried to hide the toddler’s body with a blanket, it slipped off, revealing “a lot of black-and-blue bruises,” as Cooper told Yahoo Lifestyle. During the meal, Pierce shoved food into the toddler’s face and threatened her.
For Cooper, seeing such violence towards an innocent child shook her to the core. As she told local news station WPSD, “For me seeing a baby like that up close, I couldn’t function, I couldn’t even sleep that night. I stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning, just wondering ‘Is she going to be okay?'”Thankfully, the young mother-to-be stood up and took action. Her first move was to take a photograph so that Pierce and the baby could be identified. To do this without tipping him off, she got the diners at the next table to pretend to be taking a picture. She discreetly slipped them a piece of paper with her phone number on it and they did so as soon as they could. When Pierce started to become suspicious of Cooper and the other diners’ attention, the abusive parents quickly left the restaurant, leaving the concerned server with just enough time to follow them out and get a partial photo of their license plate number. With the pictures as evidence, Cooper went online, sharing the distressing story on Facebook and asking for everyone’s help in tracking down the couple. She also managed to get in touch with an old classmate from elementary school, Aaron Caldwell, now a 911 dispatcher for the Metropolis, Illinois, police department. Caldwell took it from there, using his police training to track the couple down to their place of residence in Paris, Tennessee, about 70 miles away. He passed the tip on to the sergeant on duty in the police department there, and the couple was apprehended and the children were taken into state custody.
As Caldwell told WPSD, “I’ve got a two-year-old and I’d hate to think that my two-year-old was in harm’s way and nobody wanted to help.” For him, following the case through to end was not only what was natural as a father; it was also doing his duty as a police officer. Jordan Cooper has since given birth to a healthy little girl and received messages of support from all over the country. However, she doesn’t see herself as a hero, as she posted on Facebook: “I don’t want to be thanked for doing something I would hope most would do. It’s our job as humans to protect these young children.”