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03/16/2010

The Walmart Child-Puncher

855384_94917002 Last week, the story broke here in Columbus that a retired state employee had been stalking the aisles at north side Walmart, looking for children to hurt. He would wait for parents to get distracted or look another direction, then hit the kids in the back of the head with a closed fist, keys protruding between his fingers.

This was a new ritual for him, beginning as 2010 rolled in. But it took more than two months before he was caught. A mom, freaked by the sight of her son’s bloodied head, saw the man beating a retreat, then followed him to the parking lot and led him back to store security, where he eventually admitted his crimes. Store cameras revealed four assaults on that day – including two on children whose parents didn’t report them. (All four were little boys.)

According to news coverage, the man said that it was the thrill of being able to get away with such an act right under parents’ noses that spurred him. He liked that little children couldn’t defend themselves and counted on the fact that their sudden tears created too much confusion for anyone to look his way.

The police didn’t release his picture, because they now know he was making a habit of this, and they are hoping that other families come forward to press charges. Not surprisingly, the public defender has said that he has mental health issues – it’s hard to imagine anything else fueling this kind of cruelty — and his ex-wife has told the media that she divorced him because he won’t take his medication.

The thing I find confusing is – if the claim that he’d been frequenting Walmart and punching kids since January is true - how he could have gotten away with it that long without more parents reporting it to security? Two of the boys they know of were six and seven years old, certainly old enough to verbalize that they’d just been clocked by someone. Were the others all much younger, or simply not believed?

I can see not wanting to believe that someone could do such a thing, perhaps rationalizing that the child must have hit his head on something, that something fell from a shelf, that anything might have hit him other than some grandfatherly man.

But if my son started crying and told me he’d just been punched while I perused the salad dressing, I hate to imagine that I would do anything other than believe him, investigate and report it. And I hope I would do what the mom only known in the news as “Vanessa” did and take that kind of swift and deliberate action.

Update: It turns out that a third, two-year-old victim was hit twice in a row in February.

This is an original Ohio Moms Blog post,

Tracy Zollinger Turner also blogs about life and motherhood at Tiny Mantras, anf life as a journalist at Writearm.

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