- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

DENVER When Jennifer Farrell learned her six children had been taken into police custody and placed with relatives and in foster homes while she was vacationing, she decided to stay in Italy for two more weeks to finish her trip.
She concluded that the children were in good care, said her boyfriend Hank DePetro.
"She said, 'The kids are being taken care of, they're already out of the home, so there's nothing I can do,'" said Mr. DePetro, 60, who invited Mrs. Farrell to accompany him on the 17-day trip.
In what's been dubbed the "Home Alone" case, Mrs. Farrell, 33, faces the prospect of neglect charges after leaving her six children, ages 14 to 6, at their Greeley, Colo., home while she toured Italy with her boyfriend. She returned to Colorado on Thursday.
It was the 14-year-old daughter who urged her mother by e-mail to stay in Italy, even after the children had been removed from their home, saying that everyone was "fine," Mr. DePetro said.
"I thought we should have put her on a plane and gotten her back to the kids right away," he said. "But her daughter e-mailed her and said: 'Mom, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Don't come home.'"
Mr. DePetro, a retired school psychologist, said he regrets that he failed to change Mrs. Farrell's mind. "I feel I should have urged her further."
Worries about the case cast a pall over their trip to the Italian village from which his ancestors hailed, he said.
"The trip was great, but there was kind of a cloud hanging over it," Mr. DePetro said.
Mrs. Farrell left her 14-year-old daughter in charge with milk, bread, $7 and a credit card, along with a list of emergency contacts, according to police.
Greeley police Sgt. John Gates said officers interviewed Mrs. Farrell Friday, the day after she returned from her trip. They plan to file a report this week with the Weld County District Attorney's Office, which will determine whether to file charges.
"The mother came voluntarily to the police department and consented to an interview and was cooperative," said Sgt. Gates.
Mrs. Farrell, who was met at Denver International Airport Thursday by a throng of reporters and photographers, said she had arranged for her parents and church members to check up on her children during her absence.
But police received an anonymous call Feb. 4, the day after Mrs. Farrell's departure, saying the children had been left alone. Mrs. Farrell chalked it up to a breakdown in her child care network, adding that she kept in regular contact with her 14-year-old daughter via e-mail.
Mrs. Farrell also said her eldest daughter, who turned 15 yesterday, was mature enough to watch her younger siblings. Although Colorado has no law stating how old a child must be to baby-sit other children, one local analyst said that, in this case,14 was too young.
"One problem with a 14-year-old is that there's no transportation. A 14-year-old can't drive," said Denver legal analyst Scott Robinson. "Another factor is, can that 14-year-old use the credit card? What happens if she can't? What happens if they're without money?"
This isn't Mrs. Farrell's first brush with child-welfare authorities. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child-abuse charges in 1991 and 1995, although the details were not made public. Her ex-husband, Steven Farrell, who lives in nearby Thornton, Colo., is limited to supervised visits with the children after she accused him of abuse.
Mr. Farrell declined to comment at this time about the case.
Mr. DePetro said he's tried to support Mrs. Farrell during the investigation.
"She's a good person, she really is," he said. "She loves her kids. She's really hurting right now."
The two met at a local Lions Club event in December, six months after his wife died. He paid for Mrs. Farrell, a community-college student, to accompany him and four others to Italy but now says that he's "distancing" himself from the relationship.
"I guess you could say I was on the rebound," Mr. DePetro said. "A friend of hers introduced us, and I just thought it was an awesome time for that to have happened. But in retrospect, I'm not so sure."


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