Flashback: That Time Lafayette Was on “Rescue 911″
If you're of a certain age, you remember the CBS television program Rescue 911.
Every week, William Shatner would guide us through reenactments of harrowing stories in which someone or some people came to the aid of the victim of some sort of disaster. The show was originally planned as a one-off special, but after that special broadcast (and a subsequent special) earned high ratings, CBS executives ordered a full series, which ran from 1989 to 1996.
The show was a success, becoming one of television's original reality programs. That success stemmed partly from the reenactments, which featured the people who lived through the drama-filled incidents profiled on the program. The killer theme music also helped.
During its seven-year run, Rescue 911 featured a number of stories from Louisiana. One of them came from right here in Lafayette.
On June 21, 1987, Denise Gulledge stopped to put gas at the Shell station at the corner of Castille Street and the Evangeline Thruway. She had left her daughter Missy inside the running car while she went inside the Shell station to pay. When she turned around from the counter to walk back to her car, it--and Missy--were gone.
Before we get to the rest of the story, let's find out how the show's producers found out about the Gulledge Family's ordeal.
According to a letter to the editor published by the Daily Advertiser on March 31, 1991, Gulledge said she wrote a letter of praise to the producers of Rescue 911, thanking them for celebrating first responders.
"Without much detail, I told them of those people who played such heroic roles in the search and safe return of my six-month-old daughter and of that June day that has been branded into my heart," Gulledge wrote.
After receiving the letter, CBS executives contacted Gulledge and asked her to tell her story on their show. In her letter, Gulledge said working with the show's crew turned out to be "the very best form of therapy."
"I spent days on the phone with the people who do the research for the show and three unforgettable days with a group of truly exceptional people sent to capture the events of this haunting day," Gulledge wrote. "As much as I feared the prospect of reliving that day, I came to feel more and more at peace with it all. By the end of the week, I felt as though I had finally been able to close the book."
Gulledge said she had serious intentions for telling her story. Specifically, she wanted no parent to think twice before letting their children out of their sights.
"The obvious reason is to make people stop and think," Gulledge wrote. "None of us are immune to this type of crime. It can happen to anyone. I can't go back and change the events of that day, but I can make the effort to prevent it from happening to someone else."
Did Gulledge ever find her daughter Missy? We'll let Bill Shatner tell the rest of the story. The original air date was Tuesday, April 2, 1991.
Officials later said if Sanders and Thelma Wyatt hadn't found Missy in that ditch when they did, the baby would have smothered or would have died from exposure or ant bites. Gulledge told reporters that she never left her children in a car alone after the kidnapping. In fact, Gulledge told the Daily Advertiser said it was almost a year before she could leave Missy with anyone, even for a short period.
So, what ever happened to Denise and Missy Gulledge? According to their social media profiles, the both live in the Baton Rouge area. Denise runs a home-based business, while Missy manages a salon and spa. Missy is now a mother herself.
Thelma Wyatt, the woman who noticed baby Missy on the side of the road in St. Martin Parish, died five years after this episode of Rescue 911 aired. Her husband, Sanders, passed away in 2004.
As for the area where the kidnapping occurred, the landscape looks a lot different now. The Shell gas station where the kidnapping happened was demolished nearly 20 years ago. If you look closely at the video, you will see a number of businesses and buildings that are no longer there. Among them: the old Walmart, Weiner's, the old Firestone Tires/Lafayette Cable building, Chopsticks Chinese Restaurant, the Super Car Wash, and the J. C. Penney store in the Northgate Mall.
While a lot has changed in the last 30 years, the moral of the Gulledges' story certainly remains the same. It's a story they continue to share to this day. To hear Denise and Missy Gulledge discuss the kidnapping and life after, click here.