A Carson City mother and her 18-year-old roommate are being investigated on charges of child neglect after her 4-year-old son wandered into a Carson Street grocery by himself Wednesday morning.
Karen Bale's son, Daniel, was seen by employees of the Grocery Outlet about 9 a.m. walking in the store aisles behind a customer.
Store manager Jose Soto said he thought initially the boy belonged with the shopper, but about 15 minutes later Daniel was alone looking at toys.
"The first thing he said to me was 'I'm here to get some food for my house,'" clerk Elaine Baker said.
An announcement was made over the store's intercom asking if Daniel belonged to anyone there. When he got no response, Soto called police about 10 a.m.
As they awaited the deputy's arrival, Daniel and Baker walked around the store with Daniel clutching a red fire truck that store owner Dave Cox said he could keep.
"We wanted to keep his mind off of things," said Soto, a father of two sons. "You just get goosebumps wondering where he came from."
When Carson City Sheriff's Deputy Mark Jongsma arrived, he sat on the floor of the store to talk with Daniel, who said his mother left him and his father was in jail. He said he liked Blues Clues and that the two scars on his cheek were from a dog bite.
He also said he was hungry. When Baker gave him a snack, Daniel stopped talking and pushed the crackers and cheese into his mouth until the package was empty.
As the boy was being loaded into a Department of Child and Family Services vehicle, a clerk arrived to begin her 11 a.m. shift and recognized Daniel as the same boy she had found late one evening wandering on Fall Street. She said she'd confronted his mother, who lives there.
Jongsma said he and Deputy Richard Batien went to the address, where they contacted 18-year-old Lorne Houle.
Houle told police he'd just awakened and was looking for Daniel. He said Daniel's mother had spent the night at her boyfriend's house.
When the officers went to the boyfriend's address, he told police he'd dropped her off at home two hours before. A visit to another address where Bale, 39, might be found came up empty, but when police drove Houle back to the house, Bale, her sister and parents were inside. The grandparents had been contacted by Child and Family Services, Jongsma said.
Family Services told police the boy would remain in the custody of his grandmother while they investigated the incident.
Jongsma said he will submit a report to the Carson City District Attorney's Office against Bale and Houle on charges of gross misdemeanor child endangerment.
Two years ago, police were called to Carson Catalina Apartments, where Bale lived with Daniel after he was almost hit by a car crossing the street to a gas station, according to police reports. No charges were filed then, but Family Services was involved, Jongsma said.
Alice Pittsley, director of Child and Family Services, said she could not speak directly about Daniel and Bale, but the type of case is rare.
"This is pretty infrequent," she said. "Usually the parents are located quickly, and we open an investigation for abuse and neglect, make sure the child is safe and try to figure out what the circumstances are that led this little child to be wandering."
She said the department makes every effort to find a family member to place the child with, but if that proves impossible, the child will be placed in foster care.
Jongsma said neither Houle nor Bale was arrested Wednesday because his main concern was Daniel's safety.
"There was no need to hurry and arrest her. The child is not going back into the mother's custody at this time," he said. "We'll let the DA determine if the mother is wholly responsible, or if Houle is, too."
Baker, the clerk who had grown close to the boy in the two hours she spent with him, said she couldn't believe such a young child was wandering alone. "This just breaks my heart," she said.
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