Parents arrested after toddler found trying to sell teddy bear for food

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When Officer Steve Dunham met the 7-year-old, the boy was offering to sell his teddy bear.

The little guy must have seemed industrious, standing in front of the CVS at the busy intersection of Second and Main in Franklin, Ohio, trying to hawk his toy on July 7. Most children don’t want to part with their stuffed animals. In this boy’s case, it was a lone source of comfort, but he was desperate.

He hadn’t eaten in days and he wasn’t having any luck selling the bear. His parents allegedly weren’t even aware he’d left the house.

“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 approached the boy, who was initially shy and uncomfortable.

“I think he thought he would get in trouble,” he told CNN. “He told me he was hungry and was trying to get money for food.”

Dunham was not going to buy the bear. But he would buy the boy a sandwich at Subway.

The pair “said a little prayer and ate dinner together,” Dunham told the TV station.

Meanwhile, Dunham asked the boy where he lived, who his parents were.

Their names are Tammy and Michael Bethel, and they live on Main Street, according to the Journal-News.

Dunham and the boy headed to the Franklin Police Department, where the boy watched cartoons with a dispatcher for a few hours.

Meanwhile, fellow officers Amanda Myers and Kyle O’Neal went to the house.

There they found utter disarray, along with four other boys — ages 11, 12, 15 and 17.

The floor of the house was covered in trash and discarded, empty liquor bottles. Cockroaches scurried in and out of the odorous crevices in the trash piles, and the house had the pungent, choking smell of stale and drying urine — both cat and human, Police Chief Russell Whitman told WTWL.

A photograph of the refrigerator released by the police department showed that what little food it contained was rotting, such as a package of raw chicken that had turned a deep, dark brown. One of the containers attached to the door — which are generally used to hold jars of salad dressing and other condiments — was filled halfway with black liquid. Small, unidentifiable chunks floated in it.

The entire refrigerator was smeared with what appeared to be a sludge of some sort, varying in color from red to yellow to black.

In the photo was a slow cooker filled with discarded trash. Next to it was a bottle of oil, which had turned brown. On the stove-top sat uneaten food and what appeared to be a crushed fast-food soda cup. A bottle of Comet cleaner sat on top of the stove, alongside a bottle of vinegar and a container of salt.

A single cabinet’s doors hung open, and its lone shelf was warped and hanging low, threatening to break.

The officers arrested Tammy and Michael Bethal and fed the other children. Warren County Children Services conducted an emergency removal of the four children and, along with the unnamed 7-year-old, put them in the custody of unidentified relatives.

Both parents were arraigned Tuesday, although the story was not widely reported until Friday. Both parents pleaded not guilty to five counts each of child endangerment, the Associated Press reported.


The parents have pretrial hearings Sept. 16. Until then, Judge Rupert Ruppert has ordered the parents not to contact the children, the Journal-News reported


  1. Jamie-Maya DeLeon

    August 16, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    A 7 yr old is not a toddler. Sad story, yes. But they always mislead you with the headlines

  2. Lisa Murzin

    August 16, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    This is totally unacceptable. The 15 and 17 year old boys should have told someone of this situation long before it got so bad. Maybe they were afraid of repercussions from the parents, but these children should not under any circumstances go back to these horrible people that call themselves parents!

  3. Cushy Cole

    August 16, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    Heartbreaking. Sad when you have parents like this and so many people who want children can’t have them.

  4. Elizabeth Moore

    August 16, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Looks like there was one girl, article says 5 boys I think

  5. GEJ

    August 16, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    A 7 year old is not a toddler.
    The sad part is that not much will come of this issue for these 5 boys because our system fails kids all the time.

  6. cherie ethier

    August 16, 2016 at 10:15 pm


  7. Ashley Lucky

    August 17, 2016 at 2:19 am

    As heartbreaking as these types of articles are I don’t see how they are safety concerned. This page has become more depressing as it’s focusing on all of the negligent and abusive parents out there as click bait. Please keep the focus on safety or I will need to stop following. It’s not like it’s even an awareness page that allows the reader to support or do something about the horrors that are posted.

    • Rebecca Scott

      August 17, 2016 at 6:03 am

      I think it highlights a number of needs that are prevalent within our communities.

      I wonder what type of person needs to be told what they can do to make a difference after reading articles like this one.

      Donate food to a food bank
      Donate old good quality clothes
      Consider being a foster care
      Volunteer at a community centre that helps parents

      Etc etc

      If these stories are depressing for you to read than imagine what they feel like for those going through it.

  8. AmandA

    August 17, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    This story just breaks my heart I have a son and he’s 7 I couldn’t imagine him going hungry. The parents should be held responsible and they don’t need kids. There are to many resources for people that don’t have food for any child to go hungry there are plenty of food Pantry’s.

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