Ohio police rescue 7yo trying to sell his stuffed animal for food

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An Ohio boy was wandering around a busy area downtown Franklin, Ohio with his stuffed animal in hands Sunday afternoon. He was trying to sell the toy to get some food. He hadn’t eaten for several days, according to police who helped him.

Officer Steve Dunham found the unnamed 7-year-old trying to sell his stuffed animal outside a drug store, after police received a phone call.
The boy wanted money to buy food.

“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.”

Dunham then took the boy to a nearby Subway restaurant, where they each got a sandwich, Franklin Police Chief Russ Whitman told RT. Then they headed to the police station, where they said a prayer together and ate their dinner.

In the meantime, other officers were sent to the boy’s home. There they discovered that the 7-year-old and his four brothers were living in squalor. The home was filled with garbage, cat urine and liquor bottles, investigators said.

The officers fed two of the brothers, ages 10 and 13, at the home, Whitman said. Dunham joined the other officers at the scene, while the boy stayed at the police station. There, the dispatcher on duty took care of him, and let him watch cartoons.

When Dunham came back from visiting the scene, the boy saw him on the police station’s security cameras, Whitman said. He then ran and hid, a trick up his sleeve.

“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 told WLWT.

“Typical 7-year-old!” Whitman told RT, chuckling as he relayed the story.

Nikki Hawkins, the victim’s advocate who was called to the scene, praised the officers involved with the “really sad child abuse case.”

“We see sad cases all the time and sometimes it just feels like ‘another day in the life’, but you all fed this little boy and his brothers and made him feel safe in the middle of a nasty situation,” Hawkins wrote in a note that Whitman posted on the department’s Facebook page. “The way you treated and took care of this little guy touched my heart. Thank you for taking the steps to not only keep him safe and healthy, but also going the extra mile to comfort him and show him that people care about him. I'm lucky to work beside officers like you."

Both Dunham and Whitman downplayed their actions, however, saying they were just doing their jobs.

Officers “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 told WLWT.

They “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?” Whitman told WLWT. “Hopefully, these officers’ actions change these kids’ lives and maybe change the lives of the parents to become better parents.”

There’s nothing unusual about what the Franklin Police Department did, the chief said.

“Police officers across the nation do things like this daily. Our particular case happens to be snowballing,” Whitman told RT. He said the department has been inundated with calls from people wanting to help.

A nearby church is setting up a donation center for the boys, who are “doing great,” Whitman said.

“Our community is really pulling together,” the chief said. “I’m always proud of our community, but a situation like this makes me real proud.”

The five boys have been placed with a family member, the police chief told RT. Their parents, Tammy and Michael Bethel, were charged with 10 counts of child endangerment. They were arraigned on Tuesday, and the municipal court judge issued a no-contact order between the Bethels and their sons until the case is resolved.