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Waitress: 'I picked her up and held her'

Amber Deahn


Denny's Corporation

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (CNN) -- A Denny's waitress in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, thought she recognized a girl who had come into the restaurant early Saturday as 8-year-old Shasta Groene, reported missing since her family was found bludgeoned to death in May.

The man in Groene's company, 42-year-old registered sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan III of Fargo, North Dakota, was later apprehended at the restaurant and charged with kidnapping.

Amber Deahn spoke with CNN anchor Carol Lin about how she and restaurant workers tried to buy time before authorities arrived.

LIN: Amber, has it sunk in with you yet what you did for this little girl?

DEAHN: Not really. I'm still running on just a little bit of sleep.

LIN: Tell me what happened.

DEAHN: I came back from my break. And always -- when I come back from a break, I always check my section to see if there's anybody new. She looked familiar. And any child that comes in after 2 [a.m.], especially at Denny's, or any child I see, I automatically think of the Groene children.

And I went to look at our poster that we have up, and it wasn't up, so I didn't have a picture to go off of. And I mentioned it to my manager, Linda, ... that, you know, maybe we should pay more attention to this little girl.

And between Linda and I both, we finally decided that we needed to call the officers and have them come down and have them verify whether or not it was her. But we were pretty sure it was her.

LIN: Were you worried at that point that she might walk out of the restaurant?

DEAHN: A little bit. When Linda went back into the office to call the officers, I needed to go back out and check on my table. Tried to think of anything that would work well, and kids love dessert. So I started suggesting shakes and the different flavors that we have. And she decided on vanilla.

LIN: And how did she seem to you? Did she seem nervous? Was she trying to signal you that she needed help?

DEAHN: Closed off. She seemed very closed off. Most children that we get in, if they do come into Denny's that late, they're passing through town, trying to go home or headed home. And you give them crayons and a mask, and they light up and get all excited and say thank you, and she didn't.

She looked at the gentleman -- I haven't even caught his name yet -- looked at him and waited for his approval to say thank you. And she just bent over the coloring thing and proceeded to color. She wasn't very enthusiastic, I guess would be the word.

LIN: Right. What about the man she was with, Duncan? Did he seem nervous that you were paying extra attention to Shasta?

DEAHN: In all honesty, I was trying to get a better look at Shasta more than I was paying attention to him. That time of night, people who kind of look at you funny are pretty normal. It's late at night. You get people who've been driving for hours. So he was normal but high-strung for that time of the night and only drinking water. Most people who are that high-strung got a big old cup of coffee in front of them.

LIN: What do you mean, high-strung? What did he say or do?

DEAHN: Just a little tense. And his answers to any questions I had were very short and to the point -- non-conversational -- whereas most people ... if they had been any other father or daughter ... traveling through town, they would have been like, "Oh, we just came from wherever," or "We're headed to wherever," and he wasn't. ... He was very short and to the point.

LIN: What was his interaction like with her?

DEAHN: You know, I really -- I can't even comment on that. I really didn't pay much attention to that. My sole subject in the whole thing was to find out -- you know, get a better look at her and see if she was who I thought she was.

LIN: Goodness, you must have been nervous. So what happened next? Here she is. She's eating her dessert.

DEAHN: We took a little longer than usual to make the shake and made sure to make a large shake instead of a child's shake. We wanted to make sure to take just long enough to where, you know, if it turned out to be nothing, we could just say, "You know, hey, our shake machine's running a little slow. It's an old machine."

We didn't want to cause any suspicion, so we made sure to time it just about perfect, so that he didn't think anything of it. And it gave the officer time to arrive.

LIN: And when the officers arrived, what happened then?

DEAHN: I went outside to speak to the officer. My manager told me to go out and let him know where they were in the restaurant. And he told me he was going to give me a minute to give them their ticket. And I went back inside, and they were headed to the bathroom, and he said, "We need our check," and pointed his thumb towards the table very quickly and abruptly. I said, "OK, I'll get that for you."

And next thing I know, he was making a beeline for that table, like he just wanted to throw the money down and get out of there. And the officers -- more officers had arrived on the scene and followed him right to the table.

LIN: Right. Wow. And did you ever get a chance to talk with Shasta Groene one on one?

DEAHN: When they asked the gentleman if they could talk to him for a minute, they took him away. And the first officer on the scene sat down with Shasta. I proceeded to continue working. I brought another table their food. And about the time I got the last plate off of the tray, he grabbed my arm and said, "Stay with her."

And I went and kneeled down by her side of the booth, and said, "Hi, sweetie. How are you?" And she didn't say anything. I said, "Honey, what's your name?" She said, "Shasta Groene," and started crying. And I couldn't help myself. I picked her straight up and just held her.

LIN: Oh, Amber, you know, you're a mother of a 15-month-old little girl. You had to have known what that would have meant to Shasta's father, who's on his way to see his little girl.

DEAHN: I would really hope that if -- I would really hope if my children, God forbid, ever went missing, somebody would do the same and take the time to really look at the child.

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