California girl honored for calling 911 while her kidnapper sped toward US-Mexico border

Posted at 2:02 PM, Mar 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-11 16:02:58-04

SAN DIEGO - The terrified but clear words of 8-year-old Malaiha Wheatley's 911 call were played over a speaker Sunday at a ceremony honoring quick-thinking children who called for help when it was needed most.

Wheatley was one of a trio of San Diego kids honored for their bravery and efforts to call 911 during emergencies at the "911 for Kids" event. Officials and local authorities were on hand to present the medals of honor to the children and their dispatchers.

Wheatley and her 3-year-old brother were kidnapped by a woman last April. Their father parked at a strip mall and ran into a business by himself when a woman hopped in the car and took off with Wheatley and her brother in tow.

In the terrifying moments that followed, 8-year-old Wheatley called 911 from the backseat. She managed to give her dispatcher enough information for police to track down the woman, 26-year-old Leslie Saenz. Saenz was arrested at the US-Mexico border, and the children were reunited with their family unharmed.

"At first I was panicking and then I had my phone in my pocket and I took it out and called the dispatcher," Wheatley said.

On the other end of the call was 911 dispatcher Hailee Babusiak.

"She was very calm and she answered all my questions. She was a rockstar in my opinion," Babusiak said.

Saenz was convicted of kidnapping and vehicle theft. She is expected to be sentenced Monday and faces up to 13 years in prison.