By Kris Gonzalez, Fort Jackson LeaderFebruary 10, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Kids say the darndest things.
That's what Bethany Johnson Storlazzi, head of Fort Jackson's home-school group, thought when her 8-year-old son, Drew, said he saw a baby in a toy vending machine as they walked by the Carolina Wings restaurant in Northeast Columbia, S.C., last week.
"Drew, that's not possible," Storlazzi told her son, as she brushed it off as a kid's whimsical imagination.
But Drew remained adamant he wasn't making things up and he was determined to get the boy help.
"He grabbed my hand and hauled me back to the window to see inside the building," Storlazzi said.
And lo and behold, Drew was right. A little boy was tucked alongside the prizes in a giant claw machine.
"It took me a minute to realize that the small child was not on the other side of the machine but was truly inside it, bright red in the face and crying," she said. "It was unbelievable to see him there. I was so afraid for him."
Immediately Storlazzi, her husband, Army Reserve Chief Warrant Officer 3 Charles Johnson, and their three children rushed into the restaurant and charged toward the side room where 5-year-old Michael Horger was trapped.
Michael, who had reached up inside the machine to grab a ball, had hoisted himself up through the hole where prizes usually drop and positioned himself in a way that he was unable to back out of the machine the way he had squeezed in. The opening measures about a foot high and 7 inches wide.
Storlazzi dashed into the main dining room to locate Michael's parents while her husband looked for management to find keys to unlock the machine.
When Michael's father, Mike Horger, heard the commotion, he realized right away that it was about his son.
"It couldn't have been more than two minutes earlier that he had asked me for quarters and I gave him the last two quarters I had left," Horger said. "Within two minutes we see these people running into the arcade. I thought he had broken something, honestly. Then when I saw him in the machine I thought, 'Wow, how did he do this''"
Since no keys for the machine were on the premises, Michael's father coaxed him back out of the opening.
"He had been putting his hands down and it was his arms that were keeping him trapped," Horger said. "I told him to stay calm and to put his arms in the air, hands up and he slid right out."
When he was finally freed, Michael was clutching a ball that he wouldn't let go, and his face was red, but his father said he couldn't tell if it was from the spotlights inside the machine or more from embarrassment.
And even though he said he was a little embarrassed himself, Horger said he was very relieved that the Storlazzi-Johnson family had passed by when they did.
"I'm extremely grateful," he said. "It could have been really bad for him."
Kayla Crowell, a server who was working that night, even gave Drew $1 as a reward for his actions.
Storlazzi credits her son and his tenacity for saving Michael.
"If it weren't for Drew's insistence, that little boy could have been in that hot, dangerous location for a whole lot longer with a sad outcome," Bethany Storlazzi said. "Drew is my hero."