WILLIAMSON - What would be most parent’s worst nightmare went unnoticed and undetected by a Williamson couple on Saturday, when their two year-old toddler managed to leave their home which was occupied by two adults and two other children, proceeded to maneuver her way along a crumbling, stone wall with an approximate 8-10 foot drop, crawled down a set of steep and unsteady stairs and then journeyed off of the street on which she lived and onto another, clad only in a diaper.
“It’s only by the grace of God that the child wasn’t injured, or worse,” stated Williamson City Police Chief C.D. Rockel. “She was found by a resident who lives on Poplar Street behind the Williamson Middle School standing in the street, cold and crying.”
“Even though the temperature on Saturday wasn’t as cool as some days have been, a 2 year old wearing nothing but a diaper and barefooted is going to be cold.”
Chief Rockel said the Good Samaritan that found the child brought her straight to the police department and released her to Patrolman Jeff Taylor, who immediately began attempting to find out who the little girl belonged to.
“Rational thinking would have you fully expecting a frantic, scared to death parent to come bursting through the door of the police station at any moment after discovering their child missing,” remarked Rockel. “This was definitely not the case. Three hours had passed since she had been found wandering the street and no one had come looking for her or had called 911 to report a missing child.”
“Once she was warm, she slept. She slept the majority of time that she was at the police station,” said the chief. “With her young age, there was no possible way she could tell us her name or that of her parents, or where she lived.”
Patrolman Taylor and Mingo County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) Deputy Kevin Ball began the task of going door to door on Poplar Street and those in close proximity, in an attempt to locate anyone who recognized the child and knew who she belonged to. Partway through the search, the officers knocked on the door of a residence on Oak Street and after rousing the adult occupants from their sleep, discovered the parents of the toddler.
Holly Hammond, 26, who is a night-shift employee of a local hospital and Rafael Judkins, 37, who is said to be unemployed, were asleep in bed and were not even aware the child have left the home. Upon entering the residence with a Child Protective Service worker from the WV Department of Health and Human Resources and inspecting the interior, the home was found to be in a condition of disarray and filth, including dog feces covering the floors of several rooms.
“First of all, I can understand that a person who works 12 hour shifts is going to be tired and in need of sleep,” said Chief Rockel. “But – with that being said, working doesn’t provide an excuse for not having your children in the care of a responsible adult who is going to make sure one of them doesn’t venture out the door or come to harm.”
“And there’s no excuse for a house that was in the shape of this one,” commented Rockel. “There were sheets hanging up over the doorways separating the rooms, but the rooms that the animals were obviously using as a bathroom were fully accessible to the children. Garbage was also seen throughout the residence and on the property.”
“Children shouldn’t ever have to live in unfit conditions.”
The CPS worker removed the toddler and the remaining children from the home and placed them in foster care. Hammond and Judkins were both arrested and charged with child neglect resulting in substantial risk of injury. They were arraigned before Mingo County Magistrate Pam Newsome who set bond for each at $10,000. Judkins also had an outstanding warrant against him for charges of non-payment of child support, per Mingo County Family Court Judge Miki Thompson. No bond has presently been set on this charge and the defendant remains incarcerated in the Southwestern Regional Jail at Holden. Hammond was released from custody after her bond conditions were met.
“This child could have fallen to her death or have been seriously injured trying to get down the Oak Street steps, and she could have easily been struck by a vehicle or nabbed by someone whose intent wouldn’t have been that of the lady who found her and brought her to us,” stated the chief. “Thankfully, the end result was clearly better than the other scenarios that could have played out.”
“Parenting is a 24/7 job, it doesn’t stop for you to take a nap. As parents, it is our responsibility to assure that our children are in a safe, clean environment and under a watchful eye. Accidents happen, and kids get hurt through no fault of the parent, that’s just life. But – when you purposely neglect to tend to the needs of your children or those trusted to your care, there’s a definite problem that must be addressed.”
“Having a 2 year-old wander out of your house and you still not know she’s missing after three hours have passed in inexcusable,” concluded Chief Rockel. “It’s hard to say how much time would have elapsed before anyone realized she was missing if officers hadn’t knocked on the door.”