A 28-year-old mother of four was arrested this week after an officer discovered her four small children, ranging in age from 6 to 8, playing alone at a park in Winter Haven, Fla., according to Bay News 9.
The mother, Ashley Richardson, who returned to the park about two-and-a-half hours after the officer saw the children, told police she left them to go to a food bank, the news station reports. She faces four counts of negligent child abuse without bodily harm.
About noon Tuesday, the officer discovered the children playing unsupervised at the park. She went to the aid of the 8-year-old after he became stuck in a swing designed for toddlers, the report says. After trying unsuccessfully to free him, the officer called the Winter Haven Fire Department for assistance. Fire rescue workers freed the child by removing the swing from its frame, the television news station reports.
The children, who initially were reluctant to tell the officer where they lived, eventually gave their names, ages and address. They also said they had crossed a major thoroughfare on their own. Just as the officer reportedly was calling for further help for the children, the oldest pointed to their mother, who had just driven up in an SUV.
At first glance, the case appears to be similar to that of Shanesha Taylor, a 35-year-old homeless woman who this summer left her children in a car during a job interview in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Taylor won a wellspring of support on social media from people who argued that she had been doing her best in difficult personal circumstances. She also received financial support from an online fundraiser. But on the Winter Haven department’s Facebook page, there appears to be equal parts condemnation and support for Richardson.
“Leave her alone she was doing the right thing,” Jean Veeser wrote Aug. 13. “I played at the park alone when I was 5. [T]his is a crime of being poor. Those same kids will be required to walk a mile alone in the dark soon 5 days a week.”
Wendy Marschner took a different tack in her post.
“You people are crazy if you think these kids are old enough to be left alone!” she wrote. “This mother is right where she belongs and does not need any children!"
The police department is not backing down, either.
“What if one of the children were seriously injured while the mother was away?” the department writes in a post. “At the Winter Haven Police Department, we have a statue out front called The Protector, an officer holding the hand of a child. We are dedicated to protecting and serving the citizens. And yes, this includes the smallest ones, especially those who cannot help themselves in the face of danger.”
Read more at Bay News 9.