It was rare to see something like this in their small town. The scene before him made him equally sick and furious.
It took all his strength just to stand there and not run out. He had watched the events unfold, but nothing had prepared him for this. All he could do now was be strong.
Officer Steve Dunham of Franklin, Ohio, was driving along his normal patrol route. For him, being a policeman wasn’t just about writing tickets and pulling over speeders.
He proudly admitted he was the cliché of someone who wanted to make a difference with his job. He looked for ways to really help. One day, he found exactly that.
Down a littered alley, he spotted a young boy who couldn’t have been older than 7 or 8.
Steve’s first reaction was to worry. He reminded him of his own son. But when a suspicious-looking adult came up to the boy and reached out, Steve swerved over to the curb and jumped out.
A little hand passed over a crinkled bag in exchange for a few dollar bills.
There was no story that could paint the encounter in any innocent light. There could have been anything in there – and his time as a cop only made the ideas worse. No matter what, this was bad. He had to act.
But it was too late. The two saw him running over, and the little boy bolted under a fence.
The man ran in the opposite direction, but not before tossing the bag into a nearby bin. Steve cursed at himself for letting them both escape. However, when he looked in the bag, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
It was a tiny toy car. Steven now had a mission. He had to find the truth for himself.
Day after day passed. He patrolled the streets and asked everyone if they had noticed a young boy on his own. It wasn’t until weeks later when he was pulling up to a drug store, did he see the boy again.
He held another small bag in his dirty hands. Instead of jumping out, Steve watched the scene unfold.
People walked by – somehow ignoring the boy. He would tug on people’s jackets, say something, and then hold out the package. People would shake their heads with a smile and walk away.
The situation felt wrong, but now there was a deep twinge of sadness.
Something in the boy’s eyes screamed that all he wanted was some help. When the side of the bag split open and the contents fell onto the sidewalk, the hardened cop felt like he would burst into tears.
This time, instead of running up, he casually strolled to the store – pretending not to see the boy.
The child tugged Steve on the jacket. “Excuse me, sir?” he asked. “Would you like to buy this?” Steve melted inside. “Why do you need to sell that? Don’t you want to keep it?”
The boy looked at the matted teddy bear and shrugged. “What do you need the money for?” Steve asked.
“Food.” Steve held his breath and clenched his hands into tight fists. It was the only way to hold back the tears. He looked across the street and saw the first solution.
It didn’t take much – just the promise of all the boy could eat at the Subway across the street.
The boy was quiet at first, but Steve had experience with troubled boys. He knew exactly what to do, and it wasn’t long until he got an address. Little did he know the huge disaster that was waiting for them.
At first, Steve worried he was a runaway hiding out in an abandoned building.
As he carried two big bags of groceries to the door and saw it was an actual house, he knew it was going to be bad. The first thing that hit him was the smell. It was absolutely terrible.
The house was a dump. Trash lay in every corner, rotting food sat in takeout boxes, and no surface had been cleaned in forever.
As Steve peeked in the living room, he saw three more boys! His stomach twisted in rage. Someone was going to pay for this.
The first thing was to call social services. The next step was to get the rest of the siblings some food.
Finally, and Steve made sure he was the one to do it … was to slap handcuffs on the parents as soon as they came home – it was going to be jail for them. The final thing he was determined to handle?
He made a promise to all the boys that he would personally keep an eye on them and their process into a decent home.
The world had dealt them a pretty hard hand. He was going to make sure that nothing else bad happened to them. From now on, their toys would be to play with … not to sell for food.