It's not a big deal, says student who found little Theo
The question 'what if' never seemed more haunting after Christine Costelloe was confronted with the horror of her son's cot lying empty and gardai at her door.
But a lucky star was shining down on little Theo Costelloe (2) as he wandered the streets of Limerick alone and apparently unafraid.
In the darkest hours of the night, the tot left the warmth of his cosy cot and slipped silently down the stairs and out the front door.
He had even remembered to close his bedroom door as he left – but fortunately had to leave the front door ajar behind him. It was this clue that ultimately led gardai to his home at Aspen Gardens on St Patrick's Road.
Looking back, his panicked mother Christine (26) realised she had never even heard the creak of a door.
Her son's safe return was largely down to the captain of the Limerick University rugby team, James Ryan (21), who was returning home from work in a local nightclub at 2am.
He spotted the lone toddler, dressed only in blue onesie pyjamas and clutching his little sister's pink 'blankie' for comfort.
"I saw something and knew it was a baby – so I followed him and when I caught up with him he couldn't talk or tell me his name.
"But he kept saying 'Nana' so I thought maybe his granny had fallen or something and he was looking for help," James told the Irish Independent.
Theo was rescued by the Kilkenny-born student on a by-road in the direction of Rhebogue – close to where Theo's brother, Jack (6), goes to school.
The fair-haired child was a mile from home and, terrifyingly, had actually managed to cross the busy N7 Limerick to Dublin Road at traffic lights by this time.
"I saw that he had come across the main road so we walked back in the direction of where he had come from trying to find his house," said James – who is the son of retired Kilkenny garda Redmond Ryan.
"He was shivering so I gave him my T-shirt. He was a right happy little fella so it didn't take too long to calm him down," he added.
The arts student spent about 20 minutes trying to find the child's home, and as his mobile phone was broken, he flagged down a taxi who called the gardai.
The aspiring national school teacher from Graignamanagh, Co Kilkenny, didn't think what he did was "a big deal" but added: "Students sometimes have a bad reputation so it's great that something good has come out of it."
Little Theo was finally brought home by Garda Orlaith Ryan and Garda Shaun O'Hagan, after the open front door was spotted in a search. Meanwhile, his mother, Christine, was completely unaware of the dramatic events unfolding.
A receptionist and single mother of three, she was exhausted after a training session that evening and fell asleep downstairs on the couch after putting the children down for the night. She awoke around 11pm and went to bed, forgetting the front door was not double locked. At around 3.45am, she was woken from her sleep by gardai calling out, "Is anyone there?".
They asked if she had a son so she checked the children's rooms – and found Theo's cot lying empty.
Gardai showed her a picture of him on their phone. When she said it was her son, they said he was safe in Henry Street station.
Christine said she felt a mixture of shock and relief after being told that her little boy was found wandering on a busy road.
"The ifs and buts went through my head all day yesterday," she said.
"I was so delighted I had him back. If I had been awake and knew he was missing it would have been a lot worse, but I knew he was safe."
Christine admitted it has been hard to let Theo out of her sight since, but said her son – normally a quiet child who never leaves her side – seems unaffected by his adventure.