Shirtless and shoeless, the frantic homeless man darted across the street to an Arco gas station.
He asked a customer to dial 911.
The customer ignored him.
Determined not to give up, Ian Hinton approached another customer.
It was around 7 p.m. Tuesday night, and Hinton desperately needed to call the Garden Grove Police.
But he had no phone.
Minutes earlier, Hinton had spotted a teenage boy near the intersection of Brookhurst Street and Hazard Avenue, sitting alone and waving his arms around while talking to himself.
For about five hours, Garden Grove cops had been looking for a boy matching his description:
5 feet tall, 100 pounds.
Wearing a long-sleeve blue striped thermal shirt, black jeans, and black Van’s tennis shoes.
Large scar on the left side of his head.
Blanca Gonzalez, who had pulled into the Arco station, at first was startled to see the homeless man approach her.
What Gonzales did next brought instant relief to a distraught Anaheim mother who since about 1:45 p.m. that day had been living a terrifying nightmare:
Searching for her missing son.
Charles “Charlie” Truong, 17, has autism.
He has the mental capacity of a 4-year-old, his mother says.
Charlie and his mother, who live in Anaheim, were shopping at Hoa Binh Supermarket, 13922 Brookhurst St., when Charlie wandered away from her at around 1:45 p.m. Tuesday.
His mother called the Garden Grove police.
More than a dozen officers began canvassing the highly populated area. Cops soon determined that Charlie had entered a nearby restaurant but was told to leave the restaurant by the manager.
That’s where he had last been seen: on foot at the northeast corner of a shopping complex at Brookhurst Street and Westminster Avenue.
Ian Hinton is no stranger to Garden Grove patrol officers. He has had numerous run-ins with them for about a year, when he first showed up in the city.
Diagnosed with alcoholism, the transient recently spent nearly five months in Orange County Jail in Santa Ana. He was released March 22.
Although Hinton has had his share of encounters with Garden Grove cops, one thing has remained constant, they said: his respect for GGPD and the public’s safety.
Officer David Chang was among several GGPD officers who canvassed the area where Charlie disappeared Tuesday afternoon.
Hinton saw Chang roll by and waved hello.
The officer recalled how, a day after Hinton’s release from jail, Hinton had waved him down in a similar matter to turn over to him a pair of new Fiskars loppers — a tool used to cut trees and shrubs — still in the package.
Hinton could have sold the new loppers for money, Chang said, but instead turned them in to the PD.
“He’s always been very respectful of the police and always interested in doing the right thing,” said Chang, a five-year veteran of the Garden Grove PD.
After Hinton waved Chang over Tuesday, the officer told the homeless man police were looking for Truong — a “critical missing juvenile.”
Chang showed Hinton a picture of Truong and described his clothing.
Charlie, who speaks English and knows his name, his parents’ names and his address, had wandered away before, but only near his house. He likes to frequent libraries, elevators, and is attracted to iPads.
Police thought Charlie may have set off on foot toward his grandmother’s house in Fountain Valley.
Unable to find Truong, Garden Grove PD requested the services of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Bloodhound Unit, which soon arrived to assist.
When Hinton, a few hours later, saw the boy matching Truong’s description sitting down, he held onto him.
Hinton could sense that the juvenile was in need of help, and could tell that he had a diminished mental capacity.
Hinton then ran over to the gas station to ask someone to call 911.
That’s when Gonzales, 24, of Santa Ana, made the call.
“She saw that he was in a panic and that he was genuinely concerned (about the boy),” Chang said.
Charlie’s mother soon was reunited with him.
She thanked Hinton and reached into her purse.
“I gave him all the money I had,” she said. “It was only $40.”
She added: “I am very appreciative of the police department, which put so many resources into finding my son. And I’m very appreciative of what (Hinton) did.
“Charlie was very happy when he saw me.”
Hinton declined to be interviewed for this story.
Officer Chang said Hinton helped the boy because it was the right thing to do — not because Hinton wanted something in return.
For their efforts of good citizenship, Hinton and Gonzales both were awarded with the GGPD’s Chief’s Coin for Merit.
After mother and son were reunited around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Officer Chang walked over to his patrol car.
Just as he was about to sit down to leave, Ian Hinton yelled out:
“Hey, Officer Chang!”
Chang looked over and Hinton repeated the same two words police officers tell each other every day: