Jordan Cooper, 21, is a waitress at Olive Garden in Paducah, Ky., 20 minutes away from her home in Metropolis, Ill. During her Sunday night shift, a table of customers — a man, a woman, an 11-year-old girl and a 20-month-old baby — gave Cooper a bad feeling, reported Paducah news station WPSD.
“The baby was sitting in a highchair with a blanket over her head,” Cooper tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “When the blanket came off, her face had a lot of black-and-blue bruises.”
Cooper also saw the man acting aggressively toward the baby. “He shoved breadsticks into her mouth and said, ‘You’d better eat this’ and got in her face while she whimpered,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
The eight-months pregnant server told her co-workers, one of whom conspicuously photographed the family while taking a group snapshot for her table. “My colleague zoomed in on the family and asked her customers to text us the photos,” Cooper tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It was a team effort.”
The man and the baby made two trips to the men’s room, without a diaper bag. On the third trip, Cooper followed them in and said, “What are you doing?”
The man dashed from the bathroom and quickly summoned the bill. “I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m leaving too!'” Cooper tells Yahoo Lifestyle. She waited outside while the family got into their car, copying down their license plate number. “They drove away so fast, the mom didn’t even strap the baby into her car seat,” she says.
Cooper called the Department of Children and Family Services and the police. She posted her co-worker’s photo on Facebook (a post she later deleted), writing, “Tonight working at Paducah Olive Garden. I had a couple that came in with a child that was severely beaten in the face. Her face was black and blue all over. The guy in this picture was force feeding her food down her throat and grabbing her by her shirt and getting in her face. … I couldn’t serve because my heart hurt so bad.”
One of Cooper’s close friends, a Metropolis 911 operator named Aaron Caldwell, responded and helped send contact information to the Paris Police Department in Tennessee, where the couple lives.
That evening, Mark Lee Pierce, 33, and Jessica Woodworth, 36, of Paris were arrested on charges of child abuse and aggravated assault, according to a police report sent to Yahoo Lifestyle. While doing a welfare check at the family home that night, police found the baby sleeping in a Pack and Play in the couple’s bedroom. An officer picked up the child and saw bruises from her jawline to her hairline.
“I heard the conditions of the home were so horrific, a police officer had to collect himself outside,” Cooper tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
The infant was sent to the emergency room, where a representative from the state’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) was waiting. Both children were taken into DCS custody, and Pierce and Woodworth were booked into the Henry County jail. Their bond is $200,000 each, reported WPSD.
Phone numbers for the couple were nonworking when called for comment by Yahoo Lifestyle.
“I couldn’t sleep that night, I was so worried,” Cooper tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It makes me feel good to know these children will be better off.”
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