Mother speaks on child's arrest

Nine-year-old son charged with stealing a pack of gum

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Natosha Thornhill, of Post Falls, is emotional after describing the scene as her 9-year-old son was shackled in a courtroom in the days following his arrest relating to stealing a pack of gum.

POST FALLS - Criminals, no matter how hardened or evil or prolific, have mothers. Some are more loving than others, but they all have them, or had them.

In the case of a 9-year-old Post Falls boy who was detained by authorities for 22 hours for stealing some chewing gum, that mother is Natosha Thornhill.

Thornhill, who is also the mother of six other kids, said Thursday that her son won't benefit from the time at the Kootenai County Juvenile Detention Center.

She said the boy has been taking the arrest and lock-up hard. He is charged with misdemeanor petit theft.

He has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, she revealed, and is on medication for it. He also suffers from depression because his dad isn't in his life anymore.

"He's the one who needs the most TLC right now," Thornhill said of her son. "He's the one who needs the most attention, and knows that there are things going on that he can't control."

He has three brothers and three sisters, ranging in age from 4 to 15. Thornhill, 32, is currently with the father of her youngest child.

The other six all have the same father, who is 33, lives in Arizona and doesn't pay child support, she said. Thornhill and the father separated in 2008 because of his drug use, she said.

He just left jail in December.

Thornhill is a Las Vegas native, but moved when she was 15 with the kids' father to Cincinnati.

When she started being a mom, she said, it appeared the kids' dad was going to be a successful businessman, but then he got hooked on heroin.

Fast forward to July 11 of last year.

It was that day that her 9-year-old son rode his bicycle to the Super 1 Foods on Polston Avenue in Post Falls with a friend. They entered the store and Thornhill's son allegedly stole a 14-stick pack of Trident chewing gum - orchard peach-ripe mango flavor - valued at $1.48.

An incident report completed by a Post Falls police officer said the boy went into the store, picked up the pack of Trident then strolled to the beverage aisle where he lingered for a few minutes.

A store "asset protection officer" then saw the boy "run out the exit doors without making any attempt to purchase the Trident chewing gum," the report said. The boy put the gum next to his bicycle in front of the store and then went back inside, the report said.

The asset protection officer then went outside and waited by the bicycles, grabbing the boy when he returned. The other boy was "not involved" and was released, the report said.

It's been widely reported in media all over the country that Thornhill's son missed a couple court hearings and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The arrest was made at his home on Jan. 6 by Post Falls police, and he spent the night in a Kootenai County Juvenile Detention Center cell.

"He got ready, gave me a kiss, and said not to cry and that he was sorry," Thornhill said. "He got tears in his eyes, but he didn't cry."

The third-grader was released the next night following a court hearing.

Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh apologized on behalf of his office earlier this week. He apologized, again, Thursday.

"To the child and his family, I apologize for the trauma that this has caused," McHugh said. "The request for an arrest warrant was a mistake by a deputy prosecutor, and I regret that it happened."

McHugh also said he will continue working with the child's attorney to reach an end to the case that is in the best interests of the child.

Thornhill said it was hard to watch the court hearing when her son appeared chained and shackled after a night in juvenile jail.

"He feels already like he's the outcast of the family, like he's not as good as everybody else," Thornhill said at her home in Post Falls. "And for that to happen as well, it kind of just threw another whole load on him."

He is smart and loving, she said, but he makes mistakes because he often will act more impulsively than other kids.

She said his reaction to the whole incident is that he feels like he disappointed his family, and will end up being like his father.

He also doesn't want to cause his mother any more stress. And stress has already been piled high.

"I don't have transportation, nor do I have a baby sitter, nor do I have money to pay a baby sitter," she said.

She also watched as her 15-year-old son was arrested that same night because of missed court hearings.

All that said, these events weren't even the worst her family endured in the past year.

After moving to Post Falls, Thornhill's children befriended a neighborhood family, including a man in his 80s and his grandkids. Three of Thornhill's kids were allegedly sexually abused by the man. He currently faces several felony counts stemming from the alleged abuse.

"For anybody who has anything negative to say about me, put themselves in my shoes and take on even half of what I have to deal with," she said. "I'd like to see where they're at. I'm doing the best I can."

College or a job, anything to better her financial situation, seems unreachable right now, she said. She can't afford a vehicle, so providing transportation to court appearances for her kids has been problematic.

"I'm embarrassed to even be on (public) assistance," she said.

Even though her financial situation is difficult, to say the least, having a lot of kids has been a dream come true.

"We're all just kind of big kids," though the biggest one has a lot of responsibility, she said. "That's what my house is about."

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