HAMILTON COUNTY, Ohio — An Indiana mother accused of having abandoned her 5-year-old autistic son on an Ohio street earlier this year has pleaded guilty to child endangerment.
Heather Adkins, 33, of Shelbyville entered the plea last week in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court and is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 28.
A kidnapping charge was dropped as part of a plea agreement and Adkins now faces a term of five years probation to three years in prison, officials said.
In court last Monday, Adkins acknowledged the facts of the case but denied that she intended to harm her son, WCPO-TV reported.
Prosecutors said Adkins drove from Indiana to Tennessee in February to drop off two of her three children with a friend, but on the way back abandoned her son on a dead-end street in Colerain Township near Cincinnati, about 75 miles from her home in Shelbyville.
It was raining and the street he was left on was near a creek that was flooded. The boy, who is nonverbal, was found walking along the road about an hour after being abandoned.
"It's heartbreaking to imagine what this non-verbal, 5-year-old boy went through," Prosecutor Joseph Deters said in a statement in February. "I'm certain he was confused and hurt. His mother, being the person with whom he totally depended upon, dumps him on a dangerous road – in the pouring rain – to fend for himself, 70 miles from his home."
James Love, of the Colerain Township Police Department, said officers spent hours knocking on doors, hoping they'd find the child's family.
"I fully expected to find his parents in the morning," Love said. "Oftentimes, children, especially those who are autistic, wander out of bed and the parent calls later frantic. But by 10 a.m., no call."
That's when he said he "knew something wasn't right," and it became a criminal investigation. That investigation led to the arrest of Adkins.
The department shared a photo with the public, hoping someone could identify the boy. And they did. Within 24 hours, detectives announced they identified the boy and learned he was from Shelbyville, Indiana.
"We have identified this child and are continuing to investigate this incident. Thanks to concerned residents who called us quickly last night, he is safe and warm. He will remain safe while we continue the investigation," the police department said in an update on social media at the time.
In their update, the department also said charges had been filed in connection with this incident, and detectives had "signed warrants" for Adkins.
She was later arrested in Kentucky at a gas station on an unrelated charge. When she was arrested, police said she gave them a false name but they were able to match her social security number.
It wasn't until later that they found out she was wanted in Ohio on charges related to the abandonment of her 5-year-old son.
In a jailhouse interview with a reporter from WKYT, Adkins gave conflicting information on who she left the child with before admitting she didn't leave him with anyone.
When asked why she would abandon him and leave him somewhere all by himself, Adkins responded, "To save him from me."