A 7-year-old boy in Franklin, Ohio, was trying to sell his teddy bear in front of a CVS to buy himself food when police officers came to his aid.
After a local resident contacted police about the boy, officer Steve Dunham found him in front of the store on Aug. 7, the Journal-News reports. The boy told Dunham that he had not eaten in days, so the officer took him to Subway and purchased him a meal.
“It broke my heart,” Dunham told WLWT. “He told me he was trying to sell his stuffed animal to get money for food because he hadn't eaten in several days.”
After visiting Subway, Dunham took the boy to the Franklin Police Department.
“[We] said a little prayer and ate dinner together,” Dunham said.
Police officers Amanda Myers and Kyle O’Neal went to the boy’s home to investigate his living conditions, according to the Journal-News. They found two of the boy’s siblings in the home amongst garbage, cat urine and liquor bottles.
“[The parents 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,” Myers wrote in her report.
The boy’s parents, Tammi and Michael Bethel, reportedly told police that they had a 7-year-old son, but did not know he had left the house.
Warren County Children Services removed the Bethel’s five children, all boys between the ages of seven and 17, from their care. They have been placed with relatives, and a judge ordered the Bethels to not have any contact with their children.
Michael and Tammi are each facing five first-degree misdemeanor counts of child endangerment.
Tammi took to Facebook on Aug. 12 to defend herself and the living conditions of her children:
I wonder how many of y'all would let your 17-year-old and 15-year-old 13-year-old 11-year-old and almost 8-year-old dirty your house like this? And then not want to help clean it up? Not to mention I had like 20 kids at my house for a few days. Or the fact that I've had an open case with child protective services for the last year and they've made random visits my 17-year-old son is on probation his probation officer has made random visits and I can also post pictures that I randomly took from January to August and it shows my house clean.
The cop just popped up on the wrong day 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. [By the way] my kids didn't even eat the food that the cops brought them because they had just ate. And officer Myers also promised me that none of this would go public right in front of the children services worker named Roy. So they will be looking at a lawsuit.
Tammi’s comment provoked many others to chime in on the situation, and she responded to many of their remarks, continually defending how she treats her children and accusing the police of misconduct.
Police chief Russell Whitman hopes the officers actions will have a positive effect on the Bethel children’s future.
“[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 WLWT. “Hopefully, these officers’ actions change these kids’ lives and maybe change the lives of the parents to become better parents.”