For a seven-year-old child, few things in life are more precious than a stuffed animal. But in a heartbreaking story out of Franklin, Ohio this week, a police officer discovered a child in front of a drugstore attempting to sell his teddy bear in order to get money for food. Appearing desperate and malnourished, the boy hadn't been given a proper meal in days.
"It broke my heart," Officer Steve Dunham, who first received the call on Sunday, told WLWT. "[The boy] told me he was trying to sell his stuffed animal to get money for food because he hadn't eaten in several days."
Before taking the child to the police station, where he would receive help from social services, Dunham bought the boy a sandwich at a nearby Subway and let him watch cartoons.
"[We] said a little prayer and ate dinner together," the officer said.
The boy, whose name has not been released, is the youngest of five children. When police stopped by the family’s home, they discovered it was littered with trash, liquor bottles, cockroaches, and the smell of cat urine. All five boys have since been removed from the house and are staying with family members, while the parents, Tammy and Michael Bethel, have been charged with 10 counts of child endangerment.
“[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?” Police Chief Russ Whitman said. “Hopefully, these officers’ actions change these kids’ lives and maybe change the lives of the parents to become better parents.”
Dunham, for his part, believes he forged a special connection with the child, and sees the story as an example of positive police work.
"I came back to check on him and he was hiding. He jumped out to scare me when I came back in the building; he got me real good,” Dunham said. “[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."