The Franklin police officer who bought a meal for a 7-year-old trying to sell a stuffed animal to buy food says he is surprised by the support he has received from people across the country.
“I’m surprised because sad things happen in every community,” Officer Steve Dunham told this news outlet.
After finding the boy, who wasn’t wearing any shoes, wandering downtown on Aug. 7, Dunham was told by the boy that he hadn’t eaten in several days. He took the boy to the Subway across the street and got him something to eat.
The story of Dunham’s compassion has been reported around the world.
“It was in the news in Germany because I had a friend who emailed saying he had seen the story,” Dunham said.
The Franklin police department has been inundated with emails and phone calls praising the officer’s work with the young boy and his sibling. One phone call even included a marriage proposal for Dunham.
The 20-year veteran of the Franklin police force said his wife had a good laugh when she heard about that call.
“She’s got a good sense of humor,” Dunham said.
The attention has been “awkward,” he said, especially because the help to the young boy and his siblings was a team effort with fellow Officers Amanda Myers and Kyle O’Neal and Dispatcher Lindsay Alvarez.
Myers and O’Neal went to the child’s home on Main Street, where they reported finding the boy’s two siblings living in a home full of garbage, cat urine and liquor bottles.
In her initial report, Myers wrote that the parents created “a substantial risk of health and safety by neglecting the cleanliness in the residence, having a large amount of bugs and spoiled food throughout the residence, not having properly prepared and packaged food for the minor children to eat, and allowing a 7-year-old child to wander from the residence without their permission or knowledge, in an attempt to locate food.”
According to the police report, Tammy and Michael Bethel told police they had a 7-year-old son and did not realize he was not in the house.
Warren County Children Services did an emergency removal of all five of the Bethel’s children and placed them with relatives.
Tammy and Michael Bethel each pleaded not guilty to five counts of child endangerment charges and are scheduled for a pretrial hearing next month in Franklin Municipal Court.
At Monday’s Franklin City Council meeting, Dunham and the rest of the department were praised for their efforts.
“He’s got a big heart for people and little kids … Steve was put in the right place at the right time to help that little boy,” City Manager Sonny Lewis said.
Police Chief Russ Whitman said the actions displayed by his officers weren’t unique.
“Situations like this happen all across the nation every day where law enforcement goes above and beyond to help people in need,” Whitman said. “It’s just part of what we do.”
When asked if this experience has changed him, Dunham said, “I think that, I mean not just as a policeman, but I think just as people, I’m a Christian and I believe this is something we’re supposed to do,” Dunham said. “God gives us a means to do things and we’re supposed to help each other out.’
He also said he’s seen worse situations over his more than 20-year career as a Franklin police officer.
“By and large, this kind of thing happens in every community, everyday and they’re sad situations,” he said. “I think law enforcement officers everywhere step up to the plate and show compassion and take care of people. I think its common and this particular case is getting a lot of attention for whatever reason.”
Individuals and businesses from numerous states around the country have been asking how they can help, a spokesman for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Franklin said Monday.
“I’ve had calls from Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina and Texas and many other states,” St. Vincent de Paul spokesman Rocky Adams said, adding that they already have received several hundred dollars to help the boy and his siblings.
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