After finding a young boy all alone trying to sell his teddy bear for food, Franklin police charged the child’s parents with child endangerment.
Officer Steve Dunham found the child in a busy area and went beyond the requirements of his badge to help.
Officials said they received a call on Sunday afternoon that a young boy was wandering in downtown Franklin alone.
Police said the 7-year-old was peddling his toy in front of a drug store to get money for food.
“It broke my heart,” Dunham said. “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 took the child to a nearby Subway to get something to eat, then brought him back to the Franklin Police Department.
“(We) said a little prayer and ate dinner together,” Dunham said.
Police Chief Russ Whitman said Dunham gave the boy comfort and safety that he didn't have at home.
After further investigation, police said the child and his four brothers lived in squalor. Investigators described the home on Main Street as full of garbage, cat urine and liquor bottles.
Investigators charged the parents, Tammy and Michael Bethel, with 10 counts of child endangering.
“(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?” Whitman said. “Hopefully, these officers’ actions change these kids’ lives and maybe change the lives of the parents to become better parents.”
Dunham said he doesn't look at it as anything but just doing his job, and he made a new friend in the process.
“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."
The victim’s advocate sent the Franklin Police Department a thank-you note, commending them for going the extra mile to give a vulnerable child some comfort and safety.
Police said the 7-year-old boy and his brothers, ages 11, 12, 15 and 17, have been removed from the home and are now staying with family members.
The parents have been ordered to have no contact with them.
By Tammy Mutasa