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Crystal Leary left her engine running and her doors unlocked when she nipped into a meat market in Beaverton, Oregon, to pick up some meat and milk on Saturday morning (16 January).
But seizing the opportunity, a man jumped in the vehicle and drove off, only to realise Crystal's four-year-old son was sat in the back.
He subsequently returned to the crime scene, scolded Crystal and told her to take her child out of the car - even threatening to call the cops on her. He then drove off in her car once again.
Speaking to CNN, Beaverton Police spokesman Officer Matt Henderson said: "He hopped in the car, drove it, realised there was a 4-year-old inside, and drove back and ordered her to take the child out of the car and then drove away again.
"We're thankful he had the decency to bring the little one back.
"This is a good learning lesson for all of us who have children. Be extra careful with your kids, take the extra step to make sure they're safe."
Speaking to Oregon Live, he added: "He actually lectured the mother for leaving the child in the car and threatened to call the police on her.
"What she did was not a crime. She was within sight and sound of her child. But she left the car running, so take that extra step, take the keys with you.
"It's a good reminder to take extra precaution when we have our little ones with us."
Crystal said she was 'thankful' she still had her son after being 'so stupid'.
Speaking to KPTV, she said: "As moms, we get really busy and we think we're just running in for a second and this is just a perfect example of just letting our guards down and how terrible it could have ended.
"I am thankful that he is okay. It was so stupid and I'll never do that again, but it's that split second decision that can just change everything."
Police said Crystal's 2013 silver Honda Pilot was recovered a few hours later in Portland, eight miles from Beaverton.
The suspect is described as white with long, dark brown braided hair. He was wearing a multi-coloured face mask.
Anyone with information on the car theft can contact Beaverton Police at 503-629-0111.
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