Location: Brookfield, Connecticut
Date: August 31, 1992
On August 31, 1992, Joann Paniccia and her three-year-old son, Paul, of Brookfield, Connecticut, returned home after grocery shopping. Joann and Paul talked as she unloaded grocery bags in the kitchen. After a few minutes, Joann didn't hear a peep out of Paul and realized he wasn't in the room. She called his name as she took a look around the house, but there was no sign of him.
Joann figured Paul might be in the backyard since that's where his toys were, but she didn't find him. "My heart started beating faster and faster when I heard complete quiet," recalls Joann. "That was scary." She nervously ran around to the front of the house. "Paulie, where are you?" Joann yelled. "Paulie!" She heard Paul's muffled voice respond, "I'm hiding."
The voice was coming from Joann's car, but she remembered having locked it. She looked in through the windows. Paul wasn't inside. "Paul?" shouted Joann, staring at the trunk. "I'm hiding, Mommy," came the voice from inside the trunk. "Mommy will be right back. I'm going to get the keys." "No, Mommy. I have the keys," said Paul. Joann began to panic. Paul had locked himself in the trunk along with the keys, and she didn't have a second set. Joann didn't know how long Paul would last without air. She forced herself to remain calm, told Paul she would be right back, than ran inside, and called 911. By the time she hung up she could already hear sirens.
Brookfield Police Sergeant Charles Colman was less than a mile away when he was dispatched to the scene. Joann told Paul that a policeman was trying to get him out. "You're not going to arrest me, are you?" Paul shouted. Sergeant Colman tried to unlock the car door with a metal "slim-jim" but his efforts were in vain.
Within moments, rescuers from the Brookfield Volunteer Fire Department arrived with Fire Marshal Wayne Gravius in charge. Gravius talked to Paul through the trunk and assured Joann that he had oxygen to breathe. Firefighters assessed the situation and decided they would have to break a window to gain entry to the car.
"What's going on out there?" yelled Paul as he heard the crash of broken glass. Joann explained to Paul that a firefighter was getting into the car and was going to reach into the trunk through the backseat. The firefighter slipped his hand under the seat and into the trunk. "Give us the keys, Paul," said Gravius. "No," responded Paul. "I'll only give the keys to my mommy." "Paul, give him the keys," ordered Joann. Paul reluctantly handed over the keys. Gravius opened the trunk and lifted Paul to safety.
"Why did you go in the trunk, Paul?" asked Gravius. "'Cause King Kong told me to go in there," he said. Gravius tried to impress upon Paul the seriousness of the situation and told him that he could have been in a lot of danger. Paul simply responded, "You're going to be in trouble for breaking my daddy's window."
When Paul's father, Glen, returned home from work that night, Paul ran to greet him. "He came running out," says Glen, "and he pointed down at the glass broken in the driveway. He goes, 'Daddy, I did not do it.'" Gravius also told Paul that he was too young to have his mother's car keys. "But," says Joann, "tell that to her husband and father, who get a kick out of giving keys to Paul and encourage his interest in mechanical devices." "We like to raise the maly men," says Glen. "I'm never going to go in the trunk again," says Paul. "Never. Never more. Never."