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3-year-old abandoned at mall: Just a mix-up or more serious?

Just a mix-up or more serious? 3-year-old is left at an L.A. mall.

Three-year-old Audrey was left -- just her and her car seat -- at a Los Angeles mall this weekend in an incident with echoes of "Home Alone."

In the plot of the 1990 comedy film, the McCallister family is in such a hurry to take their Christmas trip to Paris that they manage to leave 8-year-old Kevin behind.

But in the plot of this real-life mini-drama, family members said Audrey was left at valet parking at the Grove after a mix-up over a Christmas photo session with Santa.

So how did the little girl with the impish smile manage to be left with a parking attendant on Saturday, sparking a search for relatives and an investigation by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services?

According to police, as with the plot of the Chris Columbus movie, the family said it was a case of assumptions and misunderstandings.

Perhaps, but the Department of Children and Family Services said it was taking the case seriously and planned to investigate whether it was “a family’s harmless misunderstanding or a reflection of a more persistent pattern of abuse.”

“There is a message here," agency spokesman Neil Zanville said. "Things can get hectic out there."

“We hope parents are paying attention to their children during the hecticness of holidays.”

Parking attendants told Los Angeles police a woman, who was later identified as a family member, drove up to the valet parking area about 6 p.m., dropped off the girl and a car seat, then left the shopping center in L.A.'s Fairfax district.

Representatives from the Grove’s parking declined to comment about the incident.

When nobody arrived to pick up the child, the attendants notified police officers, who took her into protective custody. Hoping to find her parents, police later released a photograph of the girl, who was wearing bright pink.

According to police, the girl's grandfather, who lives in San Diego, was watching TV when a photograph of Audrey appeared on the screen. He then notified his son, the girl's father. Soon after, Audrey was reunited with him.

“The father was not aware the child was missing,” LAPD Lt. Jay Mastick told reporters Sunday. “The father was under the impression the child was with that family member.”

In the end, Mastick said, "there was some confusion" between the girl's relatives and her father on coordinating her pickup at the shopping center.

Audrey's father told police he was supposed to meet his daughter at the Grove to take a photograph with her and Santa. Once there, he failed to spot a family member and his daughter as expected. So he thought they hadn't shown up, searched for her and then left, Mastick said.

Audrey’s aunt, who declined to be named, told KTLA-TV the girl’s mother lived out of state and wasn’t aware that her daughter had been left alone at the Grove. After finding out about the incident, the girl’s aunt said, her mother caught the next flight to reunite with her daughter. The girl’s mother and father are separated, and Audrey is often in the care of others.

Authorities say Audrey is now safe and she’s being cared for, although they declined to say where. “We want all families to enjoy the holidays together," Zanville said, "but be smart and safe in doing so.”

For breaking news, follow @VeronicaRochaLA

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

12:27 p.m.: New details and information throughout.

6:46 a.m.: Updated with information from the family.

This post originally published at 3:26 p.m. Dec. 21.

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