FRANKLIN, Ohio — Police in Ohio discovered a seven-year-old boy selling his teddy bear for food outside of a local drug store last week, and his parents are now facing child endangerment charges.
According to reports, Officer Steve Dunham responded to a call about the boy, who was seen by himself outside of the Franklin CVS last Sunday.
“It broke my heart,” he told local television station WLWT. “He told me that he was trying to sell his stuffed animal to get money for food because he hadn’t eaten in several days.”
Dunham then took the child to Subway, where the two enjoyed sandwiches together.
While they ate, other officers visited the boy’s home and reportedly found his other siblings living in squalid conditions. Investigators state that the house was littered with garbage and liquor bottles, and was stained with cat urine.
Parents Tammy and Michael Bethel said that they didn’t know their son wasn’t home. They were taken into custody and leveled with 10 counts of child endangerment.
A police report says that the couple created “a substantial risk of health and safety by neglecting the cleanliness in the residence, having a large amount of bugs and spoiled food throughout the residence, not having properly prepared and packaged food for the minor children to eat, and allowing a 7-year-old child to wander from the residence without their permission or knowledge, in an attempt to locate food.”
Warren County Childrens Services removed all five children from the home and placed them with relatives. A judge has also prohibited the Bethels from having contact with their sons.
The Bethels have pleaded not guilty to the charges, and Tammy Bethel took to the Franklin Police Department Facebook page to proclaim her innocence. She said that her house is normally clean, but her sons had recently invited friends over and she hadn’t yet had a chance to take care of the mess.
“The cop just popped up on the wrong day,” Bethel wrote. “I hadn’t had a chance to clean the mess that all them kids had made, and yes, I was arguing with my kids to help clean the mess up. BTW my kids didn’t even eat the food that the cops brought them because they had just ate.”
She also took issue with a department post seeking donations of food and clothing for the children.
“And what exactly do my kids need?!” Bethel asked. “I just spent $2,000 on school clothes, supplies and shoes.”
Police Chief Russell Whitman said that he believes Dunham did what was right.
“[Police] treated them like their own kids, and that’s exactly what law enforcement does in situations like this. How would we want someone to treat our kids?” he told reporters. “Hopefully, these officers’ actions change these kids’ lives and maybe change the lives of the parents to become better parents.”
“[We] would like to go home at the end of the day feeling like [we’ve] done something positive and, you know, had some kind of positive impact,” Dunham also said.