A 7-year-old was trying to sell his stuffed bear in front of a CVS store in Franklin, Ohio, when a bystander alerted the police to the odd situation. Officer Steve Dunham, the first one to reach the scene, got out of his car to speak with the kid, but what he learned broke his heart.
“We heard about the boy from a concerned man who came into the police station and said there was a small child carrying a stuffed animal in a busy section of Franklin,” said Dunham, adding the boy seemed nervous when he approached him.
“I think he thought he would get in trouble,” the officer recalled. “He told me he was hungry and was trying to get money for food.”
The child had not eaten in several days and was starving. Dunham told his colleagues to go to the kid’s house as he drove him to a nearby fast food joint, where the two said a small prayer and ate together.
“I'm very proud of my officers for what they did, but officers across the nation go above and beyond every single day,” Chief Russ Whitman told the CNN. “We just happened to be put in the limelight. You can find stories like this everywhere with police officers every day. That's why we get into this business, to help people.”
The police officers who visited the boy’s house discovered four more children, all between the ages of 11 and 17. The house, according to the investigators, had a large amount of bugs and spoiled food. The authorities also found liquor bottles, garbage and a distinct smell of cat urine in the residence.
“(Police) treated them like their own kids, and that's exactly what law enforcement does in situations like this,” the police chief said in a separate interview. “How would we want someone to treat our kids? Hopefully, these officers' actions change these kids' lives and maybe change the lives of the parents to become better parents.”
Child welfare services removed all the children from the house. A local charity, the St. Vincent De Paul organization, is taking donations to assist the, according to the CBS News.
Meanwhile, the parents, Tammy and Michael Bethel, each face five counts of child endangerment charges each, ahead of a court appearance next month.
The Bethels both pleaded not guilty. In fact, the mother lashed out on the Franklin police Facebook page, claiming that her house is normally clean and the pharmacy where police found her son is very close to her home.
“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,” Bethel wrote. “BTW my kids didn't even eat the food that the cops brought them because they had just ate.”