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South Bend Police: Babysitters used 2-year-old to steal alcohol

Toddler's mother says she trusted family to watch her son

September 28, 2011|By Kelli Stopczynski (kstopczynski@wsbt.com), Click here to become a fan of Kelli on Facebook | By Kelli Stopczynski (kstopczynski@wsbt.com), Click here to become a fan of Kelli on Facebook

SOUTH BEND — A local mother is speaking out after police say her 2-year-old son's babysitters used him to steal alcohol. 

Officers arrested 27-year-old Benjamin Sims and 26-year-old Danielle Howey Tuesday night on felony theft charges. They are related to the boy and his mother by marriage and they have been babysitting the 2-year-old for the past two months while she’s at work.   

The alleged incident started at the Meijer on Portage Road. 

“It appears they put this child on top of a blanket, which was on top of some alcohol they were trying to conceal, and sort of used him as a decoy so you couldn't really tell what he was laying on top of,” said South Bend Police Capt. Phil Trent.

After putting the 10 bottles of alcohol in their car, police say Sims and Howey went across the street to Wal-Mart where store security caught them trying to steal hundreds of dollars in DVDs.

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Meanwhile, Nicole McCullough frantically searched for her son.

“[I] got off work, went looking for my son,” she said. “Went to the house – nobody was there.  Kept calling and calling and driving all over to find him.”

Thinking about that panicky feeling less than 24 hours after the incident brought her to tears.

“Horrible, it really was,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I couldn’t find him, didn’t know where he was. Called the hospital, called everybody I knew trying to get a hold of them.”

McCullough eventually went to the South Bend police station where officers reunited her with her son. Had she been 10 minutes later, he would have been turned over to Child Protective Services and spent the night with a foster family.

“To put somebody's son in that predicament, I mean that's...I still don't have the words to say for it,” McCullough said.

She’s glad her son is safe, but can’t help but feel responsible for a situation that was out of her control.

“It makes you feel awful.  t kind of makes you feel like you put your son in that [situation], but I had no clue. I thought [leaving him with] family, it would be safe,” she said.

Sims and Howey are still in the St. Joseph County Jail. The prosecutor’s office has 48 hours from the time of arrest to decide whether to file formal charges against them.

McCullough is looking for a babysitter she can trust.

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