- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

DENVER When Jennifer Farrell returns to Colorado today after a two-week vacation in Italy, she won't find her children waiting for her at home. But she will find the police.
In what has been dubbed the "Home Alone" case, the 33-year-old mother is wanted for questioning by the Greeley Police Department after leaving her six children alone while she took a 17-day vacation with her boyfriend.
The oldest child, a 14-year-old girl, was left in charge of supervising her five siblings, ages 12, 11, 10, 8, and 6, at their home in Greeley, about 50 miles north of Denver.
Before she left Feb. 3, officials say, Mrs. Farrell stocked the kitchen with 3 gallons of milk and three loaves of bread, and gave her daughter $7 and a credit card. She told the children that she would reach them by e-mail every day and she gave them a list of contact numbers, including people they could call in case of emergencies. But she didn't leave them an itinerary of her trip.
"She left them some supplies, but it wasn't enough for two weeks," said Greeley police spokesman Sgt. John Gates. The children are now in foster care or in custody of relatives.
"We're not going to leave six children there alone for two weeks without adult supervision," Sgt. Gates said.
Police want to interview Mrs. Farrell upon her return before filing a report with the Weld County district attorney, who could charge her with neglect.
"We're not going to be waiting for her at the airport, but she's well aware that we want to talk to her," said Sgt. Gates. "She's been contacted by relatives and she knows what's happening."
Whether her actions will result in a child-abuse conviction is hard to predict, despite the public outrage, say legal experts. Colorado law fails to specify how old a child must be to baby-sit, although most experts agreed that asking a 14-year-old to watch five children for two weeks was unreasonable.
"It's absolutely a gray area. There's no statute that provides guidance for adult parents on how old is old enough and how old is not old enough," said Denver defense lawyer and analyst Scott Robinson.
"Speaking as a legal analyst, I'd say it's not that provable a case," he said. "But speaking as a parent and a citizen, I'd say it's completely inexcusable. Clearly it's the mother putting her own selfish interests ahead of her children's welfare."
Accompanying Mrs. Farrell is her boyfriend, Hank DePetro, 60, a retired school psychologist.
What has puzzled investigators is that Mrs. Farrell has several relatives living nearby, including the children's father, who presumably could have been enlisted to watch the children during her trip.
But the Farrells traded child-abuse and neglect accusations even before they divorced in 2000 after nine years of marriage, and "are apparently not on speaking terms," said Sgt. Gates.
A judge placed the father, Steven Farrell of Thornton, under a restraining order after Mrs. Farrell accused him of verbally, emotionally and physically abusing the children. Mr. Farrell, who denied the accusations, can see the children only during supervised visits, which police said would have prevented him from baby-sitting during her absence.
Mr. Farrell pleaded guilty to child abuse in 1991 in Arapahoe County.
But Mrs. Farrell carries her own child-abuse baggage. In 1995, she pleaded guilty to child abuse in Aurora, Colo., and then again in 1991 in Adams County.
The details of those cases are sealed.


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