Monday, August 5, 1996
When will we stop leaving our children?

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The next time you go to the grocery store, keep track of the ones you love.

Carrie Sue Offutt didn't and she's in trouble.

Two weeks ago, on a cloudy afternoon in July, she went to the Delhi Thriftway. She got some shrimp for dinner, a gallon of milk, two packs of cigarettes and a prescription for her aching back. On impulse, she also picked up a used movie video, on sale for $8.99.

While she shopped, her cousin, Jerry Lee Volski, manned the grocery cart. Her two children, a 5-year-old son and 23-month old daughter, were in tow.

At the end of the shopping trip, Carrie Sue and Jerry Lee were accused of shoplifting. A fight broke out. She drove away - with Jerry and her daughter.

Her son was left behind.

This sad story has haunted me ever since I first read about it. All I can think of is that little boy.

A 5-year-old on his own in a grocery store. Strange grown-ups all around. Some very upset. Some wearing badges and carrying guns.

I couldn't help but wonder: What kind of person would do this to a little kid? So, I called Carrie Sue Offutt.

She's already declared her innocence. She's entered not-guilty pleas to child-endangering and shoplifting. Jerry Lee Volski is still at large.

Carrie Sue Offutt goes to court on the child-endangering charge Thursday. Her court date to answer the shoplifting allegation is Aug. 14.

I don't care whether the Westwood woman did or didn't shoplift. The theft of a movie video, cigarettes, shrimp and milk pales to leaving your child behind.

At a grocery store. Just after he's seen his mother fight her way out the door.

Her story

Carrie Sue remembers the check-out lines were long that day.

''I hate to wait in line,'' she says. ''It hurts my back.'' Her back was operated on in April.

She glanced at the lines, looked at what was in her grocery cart and said, ''Leave it. I'll cook something else for dinner.''

Parking the cart by the salad bar, Jerry Lee picked up the little girl. Preparing to leave the store, Carrie Sue says, she ''grabbed my son's hand and picked up the diaper bag and my purse.''

As they tried to leave, a store employee blocked the exit.

''He told Jerry he knew he stole the cigarettes and the movie. We had to stay in the store. Jerry told him we left everything in the cart and if he was too lazy to go check, we were leaving.''

And so, they did. ''My little boy,'' she says, ''was with me.''

The employee followed them outside and asked to check the diaper bag. Carrie Sue refused.

''I would have let him,'' she insists. ''But he automatically started using physical force. He slung me around. I screamed for Jerry to get this man off me. But five other guys were trying to take Jerry down to the ground.''

During the struggle, she claims, ''Somebody from the store grabbed my son and took him back into the grocery store.''

Jerry Lee and Carrie Sue fought their way to their car and drove off.

''Because of all the commotion,'' Carrie Sue says, ''I thought my son was already in the car.''

He wasn't. But, they didn't get far without missing him. ''Before I left the parking lot,'' she says, ''I noticed my son was not in the car.''

The 5-year-old's mother eventually came back to the store for him. She says within ''two minutes.'' The police say 30.

I say, why did she leave him at all?

''My mind,'' she explains, ''blanked out.''

In the air

These days, it's all too easy for us to leave our children.

In March, a 19-year-old mother abandoned her 5-year-old son at a Toys R Us store in Brooklyn. In July, a 27-year-old Cincinnati mom had to go to school. So, she left her 10-year-old daughter alone at Sawyer Point Park.

These are extreme cases. Others may seem benign. But they're just as harmful.

We leave our children in front of the TV set for hours. We leave them at bad schools for years. We leave them at the malls and let them roam.

When will the leaving end?

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.