Free-Range Kids

Charges Dropped Against Mom Who Was Arrested for Leaving Kids Alone While She Bought Food

Government thought it couldn't prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.


Sonya Etchison / Dreamstime

In a hallelujah moment for parents everywhere, charges have been dropped against Susan Terrillion, the Maryland mom who took her kids, ages 8 and 9, on a trip to to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and left them at their vacation home while she went to pick up dinner 4.5 miles away.

While she was gone the kids, who'd been instructed to stay inside, didn't. Instead, they took the family's two dogs out to relieve themselves. The unleashed dogs proceeded to run off, and a man driving by almost hit them. As he got out to help the kids retrieve their pets, he asked them where their mother was, and one of them spilled the beans. (The other dutifully told him, "She's in the shower.") The guy then called the police. Here's the story from back then. As I noted at the time: That'll teach moms to go get their kids some food.

Anyway, the cops arrived and arrested Terrillion on two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, which is a great way to start a vacation. They also reported her to Child Protective Services.

And yet—wonderfully! sanely! humanely!—here it is, a month or so later, and the case has been dropped. As Jessica Masulli Reyes of The News Journal reports: "The Delaware Department of Justice determined it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she committed a crime."

Reasonable doubt? Ask me they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she had done anything out of the norm. Of course, the cops defended themselves, issuing a statement that said:

"In this case, as in any other, the primary focus of the police is the protection of human life, especially those who cannot protect themselves," the statement said.

It went on to say that in this case and all others the officers of the Rehoboth Beach Police Department "wear the badge on their chest with pride as a symbol of justice with emphasis on moral and ethical decision making."

How moral and ethical is it to second-guess a mom of children who were neither beaten, nor starved, nor abused? Worse, it seems as if the mom may still have to answer to the authorities, as the prosecutors said:

"To the extent that this matter required state intervention, the prosecutors believed that it might more appropriately come from child welfare authorities rather than through a criminal prosecution of the parent."

As if being harassed by a government agency that can take away your kids is so much better than being harassed by a government agency that can lock you up.

David DeLugas, head of the National Association of Parents, represented Terrillion and summed it up this way:

"Unless we are going to put all kids in bubble wrap, we need to step back and let parents make their own choices so long as they do not cause harm…Parents have the Constitutional right to make those choices, the liberty to make decisions based on their own kids."

I can understand that the fact that if the kids had not run outside and if the dogs had not been unleashed, this case would never have materialized. But we have to have room in the law for imperfect moments, imperfect kids and imperfect parents. Otherwise, we are all sunk.