Les Brock and Willie Schwinn were on their way to Cedar Point on Monday morning with their girlfriends when they received the Amber Alert on their smartphones: Kevin Criss, 36, of Middleburg Heights, had reportedly abducted his 8-year-old son, Kevin Criss Jr., from a relative’s home in Cleveland.
Brock, 34, of Litchfield Township, and Schwinn, 36, of Liverpool Township, decided to be on the lookout for Criss’ vehicle. Brock used his phone to Google a photo of the 2003 Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan identified in the alert.
The two friends then came up with a way to memorize the license plate: FOA-3605.
Schwinn concocted a mnemonic memory trick — “Fraternal Order of America.”
Jerseys of old football teammates — both Brock and Schwinn played for Buckeye High — provided the numbers.
The result: “Fraternal Order of America-Anders-Neumeyer.”
But they never expected to actually see the license plate they worked to memorize.
About 9 a.m., Brock and Schwinn sat with their girlfriends for breakfast at Lemmy’s Restaurant, on state Route 6 in Huron.
Looking out the restaurant window, they saw an Oldsmobile minivan at the service station across the street, less than 40 yards away.
As the van pulled away, they saw the plate.
“That’s it,” they exclaimed simultaneously and charged out the door to their car.
Brock dialed 911. Schwinn drove and Brock stayed on the phone with police.
They followed Criss for five miles, staying a couple cars behind him, and alerting police to each landmark they passed.
Schwinn said the pursuit was never at a high speed. Once, they worried that Criss may have been aware they were following him when he looked like he might try a quick turn onto a side street.
Before long, a police cruiser came from the other direction and cut off the van at the front. Another cruiser cut in from behind.
Brock and Schwinn said police had Criss out of the minivan and in custody within seconds.
Within minutes, cars from five law enforcement agencies were on the scene.
Police reportedly found drugs in the van. The Erie County Sheriff’s Office charged Criss with drug possession and violation of a civil protection order. He also faces a charge of custody interference in Cleveland for abducting his son.
Criss was arraigned Tuesday morning and posted bond around 6 p.m. He is due back in court Tuesday.
Brock and Schwinn stayed to learn about the boy’s condition from police.
“They said he was fine,” Brock said. “He was sitting in the back seat drinking some chocolate milk.”
When they returned to the diner to rejoin their girlfriends, the entire restaurant applauded and the owner paid their bill.
Brock said his hands were shaking too much to eat breakfast.
Schwinn said: “We were definitely the topic of conversation until we left.”
The two men are metal construction workers for Brock’s parents’ company, L&S Erectors. They had just returned from a job in New York and were looking forward to some recreation. But when they got to Cedar Point, a public relations agent for the park escorted them to an interview with a Cleveland television station news crew.
Between the interviews and the rain, they never got to enjoy the park. They were given return passes and invited back.
Brock and Schwinn shunned being called heroes.
“We’re Christians, and we don’t even really like being called heroes because we believe that was God-led,” Brock said. “There were just too many things that lined up to make that happen. We want that mom to thank God, not us.”
They said they are members at Christ Church in Elyria.
They played football together at Buckeye, where Brock competed until transferring to Brunswick as a senior. He was the star running back for the 1995 state runner-up Blue Devils, and was Medina County’s all-time single-season scoring leader until two years ago, when Wadsworth’s Jack Snowball broke the record.
Schwinn said his nieces have taken to calling him Willie Ramsey, referring to Charles Ramsey, who in May was credited with saving three women held captive for 10 years in the Cleveland home of Ariel Castro.
Brock said the media attention is valuable if it results in people paying more attention to Amber Alerts.
“I’ve had so many people tell me they got the Amber Alert and didn’t think twice about it,” he said. “But now they say they’ll always pay attention in the future.
“If we pay attention, as a group, we can save these kids.”
Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.