Child Abuse

Bystanders Film A Mom Nodding Out On A City Bus But No One Thinks To Help Her Child

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city busA frightening video of a woman who seems to be on the verge of passing out while on a city bus in Philadelphia has been making the rounds today. In the video you can see the women’s young daughter, who seems nonplussed, trying to keep her mom awake.The assumption everyone is making is that the woman was “nodding out,” a term used to describe the sleepy, dopey state that heroin causes.The video is four and a half minutes long and has sparked outrage because no one on the bus thought to make a call to 911 or the transit police. Because who cares about a child’s safety when there are YouTube videos to be made, amirite? What the hell is wrong with people?

The video was posted to a Facebook page called “People of SEPTA” which makes fun of the characters you see on public transport in Northeast Philly, where it almost instantly went viral. What I don’t understand is how none of the people who witnessed this incident (including the wonderful example of humanity who took the four minute video instead of making sure the woman and her daughter were okay) thought to make a phone call to the authorities. Or at least let the driver know.

Thankfully both the Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Victims Unit and the Department of Human Services are each investigating the incident. According to some reports the police have been able to identify the woman and she’s being questioned, but authorities are understandably annoyed that no one alerted them sooner. According to DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose:

“While it is helpful that so many people emailed and called us after viewing the video, there were many people on the bus who witnessed this as it was occurring and took no action at all. Child abuse is a community problem, if you see or know that a child is being abused or neglected, you should report it immediately.”

People, when you see a child in trouble in public, you DO SOMETHING! And by something I don’t mean “take a four minute video to mock the parent on social media.” For all we know the woman was going into diabetic shock, or having a seizure, or experiencing any number of medical problems (yes, I know it seems to be confirmed that she was under the influence, but no one knew that at the time). Was this the effects of the the bystander effect? Are people just assholes? Probably a little of both.

*I considered whether or not to post the video, and decided against it since the woman is reportedly in custody and I feel no good can come from further embarrassing her. *

(Photo: Art Konovalov /


  1. SusannahJoy

    March 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    People are awful.

  2. Jessifer

    March 9, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    There was an entry not that long ago about a waitress who called 911 on a customer because she was having “drink after drink” and breastfeeding at the same time, only in that one the opinion was that the waitress was a “nosy sanctimommy” who needed to mind her own business. I really don’t see the difference. If you are concerned about a child’s welfare, you should always do something about it. It’s just too bad that some people end up get their names dragged in the mud for trying to do the right thing.

    • Sara

      March 9, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      Totally agree! I was disturbed by the popular opinion on the drunk breastfeeding mom as well….I always err on the side of protecting the child but lots of people seem to think it is more fun to either sit back and either “mind their own business” or mock the parent. Shameful.

    • jendra_berri

      March 9, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      It is not illegal to drink when you are of the age of majority, even if you’re nursing. And the jury is out on how much a breastfeeding mom can safely drink.
      However, it is certainly illegal to take street drugs and then care for children. It’s considered endangerment.
      Reporting on the breastfeeder is butting into someone’s life because you disapprove. There’s no crime to investigate, no matter how wrong you think it is. Reporting a parent who is displaying signs of drug use is an appropriate precaution as there may well be a crime to investigate.
      They’re really not the same thing.

    • Andrea

      March 9, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      I don’t know about that. There are a LOT of different legal definitions of child endangerment depending on the state you live. When you are a mandated reporter (and LOTS of people are – in fact the state I live in just made school volunteers mandated reporters) you don’t decide what is legal and what isn’t, all you are mandated to do is make the call to the authorities. And that is ONLY based on what you think. If you think a child is being endangered you have to report.
      So i think someone should have called the authorities on the bus woman and there was nothing wrong with making the call regarding the drinking BFing woman. I also stayed out of that BF discussion here because I was pretty taken aback regarding the “mind your own business who made you the morality police” attitude.

    • jendra_berri

      March 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      I don’t live in the States. Maybe that’s why it seems nuts to me. Teachers and the like here are required to report suspected abuse, but we’re talking abuse. Like, kid’s not being fed, or being beaten or the parents are getting hammered and leaving them alone stuff. Maybe things have changed, but these sorts of stories I hear about calling in whatever are never local.
      I went to a pub pregnant and declined a beer when everyone else had one and the waiter was like, are you sure you don’t want one? I was served wine with a smile at a wedding pregnant. Most breastfeeding moms I know, and I know a lot, calculate their alcohol intake while nursing, and don’t say much about other’s choices. Just to give you an idea of the atmosphere I’m coming from.
      And anyway, waitresses are not mandated reporters anywhere that I’m aware of. She could have told her manager she was uncomfortable and let him or her make the call, rather than just phoning it in. Whereas with the mom on the bus, the child was in obvious immediate need. I still don’t think it’s a fair comparison.

    • Andrea

      March 9, 2014 at 6:16 pm

      The reporting laws are different in the States and, to be honest, so is the attitude towards alcohol.

      At any rate, the waitress doesn’t have to be a mandated reporter to call CPS. If she thought it was child endangerment, she should have called. And the people on the bus were equally responsible: they should have offered to help.

    • Warren Pacholzuk

      June 19, 2014 at 2:12 am

      And that waitress was out of line, and deserved to lose her job.

    • Andrea

      March 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      Also, I would argue that while it is of course very legal to drink if you are of age, lots of people have endangered their children while drunk too.

    • Byron

      March 9, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      To me both sound like moral issues. To some people drug use is ok. In my eyes it’s less horrible to use drugs than to drink and breastfeed since in the drug case you’re only harming yourself and you should be free to do so but you do not have the right to harm your child.

      It’s not like being drunk and tending to a child is any less dangerous than being high and tending to a child would be. There’s been countless cases of drunk driving taking the lives of innocent passenger children. Way more than there’s been of tweaked out parents falling asleep in buses resulting in their kids being killed somehow. I’m sure you can understand the common sense and moral issues people can have, issues divorced with the technicalities of the laws.

      Ultimately, the technicalities of the law are irrelevant when examining issues of a random passerby intervening. We’re not in a country of lawyers (despite the high number of lawsuits) and you can’t expect everyone to function with the utmost technical letter of the law in mind. People will function with their morality in mind, whatever the law may or may not say.

    • Rachel Sea

      March 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      As someone who comes from a very long line of drug addicts and alcoholics, I can assure you, you do not only harm yourself when you do drugs. Heroin, coke, crack, meth, prescription pills…all cross into breastmilk too. Even when it’s only your brain and liver on the line, the psychological harm touches everyone around you.

      Hard-using addicts accidentally poison their children, forget to feed them, smother them, abandon them in search of a fix, as well as getting behind the wheel and killing them in a wreck. If that mom was nodding from heroin, and unable to care for her daughter, she as good as abandoned her.

  3. ShanLea

    March 9, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I saw the video on a friend’s facebook page a couple days ago, and my thoughts were…of course someone should have been calling the police, but not one single person offered the little girl any type of immediate help, even as little as helping her with her bags, or help move the mom back into her seat, or anything. Just a small kindness could have made a world of difference in this girl’s life, letting her know she shouldn’t have to shoulder the weight alone. Not a whole lot of faith in humanity after watching this.

    • brebay

      March 9, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      People who live in this area are just so used to seeing this. There was a story a few years ago about a guy who saw a young woman much in this condition , tried to help, and she stabbed him with a needle she had shot up with. This is a dangerous area; people learn to be self-protective. I agree calling 911 would have hurt nobody, but physically stepping in could have made it worse.

  4. Alicia Kiner

    March 9, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    I just saw this video and an article through a Philly newspaper on my Facebook feed and the only reference to the mother being a drug user was the video poster’s title of “junkie mom on SEPTA.” The article goes on to quote a DHS employee and a police officer, neither of which say anything about the mother using drugs, just that the child is safe, and that they are dismayed that no one on the bus did anything to help the child at the time. This terrifies me because the way that woman acted… that’s EXACTLY how I am when I get a migraine. And I can go from being 100% completely normal, happy go lucky, out shopping, running errands, playing in the park with the kids, to the way she’s behaving in 15 minutes. And it doesn’t matter if I have my meds or not, because sometimes, they just don’t work. People are making the assumption all over the place that this woman is a drug addict, and she very well might be, and demanding that her child be taken away. But what if she’s not? Do sick people deserve to have their kids taken away? Do I? Because this could just as easily have been me and my kids?

    • Jessifer

      March 9, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      It’s not a citizen’s job to determine the reason why the person is nodding off on the bus and whether it’s valid. That’s up to the police or CPS to find out. A citizen’s duty is to report any concern they have about a child’s welfare, which is what everyone failed to do in this case. In fact, in certain professions such as teacher, doctor, child care provider, they don’t even have the discretion to give the person the benefit of the doubt because it is illegal for them NOT to report their concerns. It may be a nuisance for parents who have done nothing wrong, but it helps protect many children who may otherwise fall through the cracks.

    • CMP414

      March 9, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      Exactly. I am a mandated reporter as a social worker. My job is always to call the hotline whether it’s work related or not. The hotline is then to investigate and decide a plan of action. Regardless of why this mother was in the state she was, she was clearly unable to adequately care for her child in that moment. I live and work where this happened I am curious to see if she comes through our agency as a client.

    • Warren Pacholzuk

      June 19, 2014 at 2:10 am

      Yes, and your actions will just as often put innocent parents thru hell.
      Since when has being tired considered child abuse?

    • CMP414

      June 19, 2014 at 7:36 am

      I live and work in social services where this incident occurred. I can tell you for a fact this was not tired. This mother has a long history of drug abuse. This case is now open and of course mother has skipped town and missed her court dates.

    • Warren Pacholzuk

      June 19, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      Get off your high horse. Better safe than sorry can destroy just as many lives as it saves. So no it is not the way to go.

    • Alicia Kiner

      March 9, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      I fully agree that someone should have called for help. The person that filmed this video had all kinds of time to call for help, or even alert the driver that there was an issue. My problem is all of the people demanding “her child be taken away because she’s obviously a druggie” based solely on the video and the title. That’s all.

    • Rachel Sea

      March 10, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      I used to have problems with my blood sugar tanking unexpectedly. I’d stagger drunkenly for a bit and then faint, or get locked-in. I once spent 10 hours alternating between being locked-in and unconscious at a festival while people nearby assumed I was sleeping off a hard night. I could hear people making jokes about me at intervals, but no one checked on me or called for help. I could have died while they looked on.

      I contract with a guy who has poorly controlled diabetes, and he has nearly been arrested for being drunk in public on numerous occasions, because he was in insulin shock, stumbling, slurring, and unable to focus. A sky marshal almost killed him by placing him under arrest and ignoring the person who was insisting he needed medical help. That was a huge cock-up, he would have absolutely died in custody if a cop on the ground hadn’t been willing to finally listen to reason.

  5. Hana Graham

    March 9, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    I think it is obvious she was nodding out but I was also sickened not a single person helped her. I’ve lost too many people to heroin. And I would still at least offer her a shoulder to nod off on and mind her child during the ride. No one knows their circumstances. Least you can do is be a decent human.

  6. CMP414

    March 9, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    I was wondering if I would see this on Mommyish. This happened like 10 minutes from where I live and it’s all anyone I know can talk about. I’m glad that this woman was able to be identified so she and her child can get the help they need. I ride the train in Philly three times a week and seeing people like her nodding off is sadly not an uncommon site at all.

    • Andrea

      March 9, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      I’m not sure why everyone jumped on the junky train. When I saw it, my first thought was that she very very very sick and couldn’t understand why no one asked her if she was ok or if they needed to call someone for her.
      Don’t tons of people sleep on the train?

    • brebay

      March 9, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      Usually not when they have a small child with them, and not to the point that they’re blocking the aisle and their kid has to take care of them. I get you’re giving her the benefit of the doubt, but if you’ve ever worked with an addicted population; it’s just painfully obvious that she is on something. Sick just looks different. Yes, we’re all guessing at this point, but the gape-mouth, obliviousness to her surroundings, the fact that her kid wasn’t panicked at all and seemed used to it…I just think this is pretty clear.

    • Andrea

      March 9, 2014 at 6:17 pm

      I’ll have to take your word for it. I never been around people on heroine or any kind of hard drug, so I don’t know the symptoms.

      At any rate, yes they should have offered to help her.

    • CMP414

      March 9, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      If you stopped everyone you saw like this on public transportation in Philly you honestly would not get anywhere. It runs rampant.

    • Andrea

      March 9, 2014 at 6:37 pm

      I believe you, but with the kid present?

    • CMP414

      March 9, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      The cops should have definitely been called in this case. The child has since been removed by DHS. Like I said in an earlier post I am wondering if this girl will be a client in our agency.

    • CMP414

      March 9, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      Like I said I live right there and I ride the same transportation. To see this in person like I do on a regular basis it is nothing like sleeping. They are swaying back and forth and believe me it’s obvious these people are on drugs. Last summer I was riding the train and there was a couple in their 30’s (or so) both nodding and spilling coffee EVERYWHERE. No one doubted they were drug users. This is Philadelphia we are talking about and it’s so common on our train called “the el”. My friend calls the el “the methadone express” Of course, you get a lot of regular people using Septa to work downtown but then you get a lot of other people on there too. I have seen on Septa intoxicated people vomiting, grown adults who have had “accidents”. It’s so nasty sometimes but parking a car downtown is expensive and space is limited.

  7. brebay

    March 9, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Sad thing is, the kid seems totally unfazed, she’s obviously used to this.

  8. Crusty Socks

    March 10, 2014 at 2:30 am

    The important thing is, she wasn’t driving under the influence.

  9. Penelope G

    March 10, 2014 at 9:37 am

    I don’t think any of us should be judging what is or isn’t happening to this woman. We should be looking more at those around who lacked any sort of alarm or compassion.
    As a long time sufferer of Narcolepsy this video resonated with myself and othe sufferers. There’s a magnitude of things that could have been going wrong with her. If only someone could be bothered to stop and ask.

  10. Paul White

    March 10, 2014 at 10:55 am

    I’m not particularly versed in what heroin use looks like (I see more huffing and meth abuse in our area, we’re too poor for heroin). But FFS, I have nodded off holding my son more than a few times….exhaustion sucks.

  11. airbones

    March 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I was born, raised and still live in Philly. This story has been a big deal for a few days now. Someone else posted that this is a common sight on the El in the area the video was shot, and s/he is right. Heroin is a big problem here in the Philadelphia area, and seeing people nodding out is unfortunately so common. I guess it has gotten so common that people don’t even think twice about not calling the police when they see it (chances are they won’t come anyway, not as a jab at the force, but because there would be too many calls).

    I don’t think anyone agrees that this particular circumstance should not have been reported and i think most people agree that someone should have helped the girl then and there.

    It’s terribly sad and really highlight a larger issue here. I think this incident has caused a lot of people who ride Septa or who live in the area to think again about certain scenarios they may have brushed off at the time. Hopefully what we can learn from the bunch of ignoramuses on that bus is not to let things like this slide in the future.

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