Helping a family in need: Missing 4-year-old boy in Detroit Lakes leads to generous gift

A 4-year-old Detroit Lakes boy, under-dressed for winter, was found outside by sanitation workers on Jan. 12, which led to the involvement of Detroit Lakes police officers contacting the mother and returning the child. While dropping off the boy to a frantic mother, the officers noticed the family was in desperate need of help, which is how, through a series of calls and donations from the Boys and Girls Club Thrift Store, a family's life was changed for the better.

The new Detroit Lakes Police Station on Holmes Avenue on June 14, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

After being discovered outside and under-dressed for the cold by sanitation workers on Wednesday morning, an unattended 4-year-old boy was taken to Lakes Crisis and Resource Center in Detroit Lakes.

Two Detroit Lakes police officers responded to the scene and checked the boy, along with EMS personnel. He was okay.

Josie Johnson became a Detroit Lakes Police Officer after eight years at the Becker County Jail. DETROIT LAKES TRIBUNE/Brian Basham

"One of the officers went over to begin looking to where the child came from, and she had an idea of which few houses he might've been from," said Detroit Lake Police Chief Steven Todd. "She knocked on the door and located the mother of the boy and found that the mother was frantic, and she told the officer that the son had escaped from the house and she didn't know that he had gotten out. She kept both of the doors locked and doesn't know how he was able to unlock them, but ultimately he got out."


The child was transported from the crisis center back to his mother.

She's a single mom, Todd said, and had been working day shifts with a family member driving in an hour and 15 minutes every day to look after the kids so she could work.

"(The officers) noticed that there was a lack of adequate furniture in the home and instead of clearing the call and just going to the next call, they decided to do something about it," he said. "They got a hold of Boy and Girls Club Thrift Store (in Detroit Lakes) and informed them of the situation and asked the thrift store for help."

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Robert Strand has been with the Detroit Lakes Police Department since September 2002. He added on a third job in November 2019 when he took ownership of Snap Fitness. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

The Boy and Girls Club Thrift Store literally delivered.

The store delivered a kitchen table, dresser, and toddler beds for the kids, with bedding, said Todd, who couldn't say enough positive things about the thrift store staff who helped make that happen. Also, during this time, the responding officers made their way back to the station and talked to a co-worker who knew someone with a couch, and that couch was donated and delivered to the residence, as well.

"These two officers who responded to the call, they personally purchased a set of door and window alarms to put on the entry and exit points that would ring an alarm if one of the kids opened the door unattended," said Todd. "They also bought a rug for the front entryway of the home."


Todd said he didn't have any idea his officers were doing that sort of meaningful community work, until he read through the incident reports the following day.

Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd, after making a volunteer delivery to a senior in need in Detroit Lakes. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

"I started reviewing and approving reports and I stumbled into this one and it was like, 'Oh my gosh,'" said Todd. "Honestly, they would've been happy if I never would have discovered it."

In a Facebook post on Jan. 14, Todd thanked Officer Josie Johnson, Sergeant Robert Strand, Records Technician Jean Livingood, and the staff of the Boys and Girls Club Thrift Store for their "good hearts, generosity, and work ethic."

"They didn't do this at all for recognition, or a pat on the back, or to look like a hero, they did it because they were standing face-to-face with a young mom who needed help, and they felt like we have something that we can do, and this lady needs a hand. That's why they did it," he said. "What they did was just flat-out amazing and it was really touching."

In five hours, the post had been shared 1,300 times and had 182 comments and more than 2,200 impressions.


"It also shows how important public/private collaboration is in a community like ours," the post stated. "I was incredibly proud and touched when I discovered this situation. I felt you as a community needed to know about it."

Lead Multimedia Reporter for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus.
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