COLUMBIA, Mo. - Andrea Auston starts her day by dropping off her daughter, 6-year-old Akira Woods, at the Tree Top Learning Center. Akira waits for the school bus there, while Auston attends nursing school. They've had this routine since Akira started Benton Elementary School last year.
Things changed Wednesday.
"We're going to take it a day at a time," Auston told ABC 17 News on whether they would take the bus again.
Auston said her daughter fell asleep on the way to Benton Elementary. When she woke up, the bus was stopped in the Hardee's parking lot on Paris Road, a little more than a mile from school. The driver wasn't on board, and Akira claimed she couldn't see him in the restaurant. Thinking she was in a familiar neighborhood, Akira walked the length of Whitegate Drive, knocking on what she thought was her uncle's door. The man, who was not her uncle, directed her to his neighbor, who answered the door and let her in.
"And I said, 'Why did you get off the bus, why didn't you wait for the bus driver?'" Auston said. "She said, 'Well, I waited a long time, but people kept walking past looking at me and I thought they was going to take me.'"
The bus company, Student Transportation of America, told Auston that the driver failed to "walk through" the bus after children got off at the school. The company told her that the driver was fired, and that a new driver would take over that route with a chaperone on board.
Perry Morgan lives in the 2600 block of Whitegate Drive. He told ABC 17 News Akira came to his door crying Wednesday morning. It took them some time to understand what she was trying to say, but eventually learned about the bus situation. Morgan said he called Columbia Public Schools, and a school administrator came to pick her up.
Auston said STA contacted her around 9:40 a.m., nearly two hours after Akira is usually dropped off at Benton. Never did CPS call her, which she feels the district should have done. Auston said the district didn't call her because they felt it was an STA issue.
"They should have called me the moment they knew she was at a stranger's house," Auston said.
Neither CPS nor STA returned multiple requests for comment for this story.
Auston said she feels lucky her daughter found the Morgans' home, but knew it was highly dangerous for her daughter to do so. She hopes her story will educate both parents and children on how to handle a similar situation.
"Let them know that if they ever get in a situation like that, or they're ever lost, that it's always best to go into a business and ask for help," Auston said.