The story sounds a bit like a children's book come to life: A 4-year-old boy who seemingly out of nowhere wanders into an elementary school with the other kids at opening time and makes himself quite at home.
His name is Jay, and it quickly became apparent yesterday that he was not a student at Baltimore County's Winfield Elementary School, where the little boy's long day began about 9:15 a.m.
"He just came in with all the students," said Winfield's principal, Nancy L. Roth. "We have 700 students who came in the front door every morning, and he came right in with them."
She said he went into the breakfast program cheerfully on his own, but it was soon apparent that the boy -- dressed in a purple and green shorts ensemble, white socks and black sneakers -- was not a familiar face.
School staff members took him to the pre-kindergarten program to see if anyone recognized him, and walked with him around the school to see if any other children knew who he was.
No one did.
Then they took him outside. "He seemed to think he could tell us where he lived, so we even went out so he could direct us to his home," the principal said.
That didn't work either, so she called the county police.
Woodlawn Precinct Officer Carrie Fields took Jay door to door in the neighborhood, asking if anyone knew the little boy. She also took him to a nearby day-care center, Kid's Place, on the grounds of Northwest Hospital Center, but again no one recognized him.
But Jay was undaunted, the officer said. "He was all excited in the school, and when I got him in the [police] car, he loved being in the car." He was only scared when he was making the rounds in the neighborhood, she added.
Jay spent most of the afternoon at the Woodlawn police station, bringing along his "Team Dino" knapsack.
He made good use of his time there, having lunch, playing with toys and coloring.
Jay appeared to have had a recent encounter with chicken pox, judging by the small scars above his lip and on his cheeks and neck -- and his comments. "Chicken pops gone!" he said. "It's gone!"
By mid-afternoon, he had commandeered the attention of reporters, singing and dancing on the radiator of the police station lobby, saying, "I see the sun!" and shouting, "Hey! I got a quarter!" when he found one in the candy machine. Big people should have such luck.
When asked his last name, the little boy had only his first to offer, and spelled it out: "J-A-Y." And when asked what he had to eat, he said softly, "I want my mommy."
He had mumbles and smiles, but no answers about where he went to school, where he lived, his telephone number. But after all, he is a little boy.
Police said Jay gave them divergent accounts of how he arrived at the school. He said, at different points in the day, that his mother dropped him off, that he took the bus, and that he walked.
"He's got quite a few stories," said Woodlawn Lt. John P. Trentzsch.
He also managed a happy ending.
A neighbor saw little Jay on a TV news broadcast, and shortly before 6 p.m. his father arrived. Then his mother, who seemed none too pleased. And neither was sure how he apparently managed to get on the wrong bus on Campfield Road, going to Winfield Elementary instead of the Kiddie Academy day care center.
And he was, indeed, a Little boy.
His father, Jay Little Sr., carried him out of the police station.
Mr. Little was not ready to blame anyone for the mix-up -- at least not yesterday evening.
"We're all smiling," he said. "I love this boy. I'm happy."