JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police arrested a man who called to report three young children missing Sunday afternoon about three hours after they were found wandering in a Southside neighborhood.
According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, a citizen found the two boys and a girl ages 1 to 4 years old alone on San Diego Road about 4 p.m. and called police and stayed with them until officers arrived.
Police said the children were in good condition. Within an hour of making a public appeal to help find the parents of the children, police said they found them.
Officers responded to the house of 23-year-old Lanard Bell after he called to report the children missing. Police said the place was in "utter disarray," with marijuana, a pipe and scale found in the living room. Dirty diapers were on the floor, there was spoiled food on the floor and in the kitchen, and the only usable beds in the house had no sheets.
According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the children's mother, Ashley Booth, asked Bell to watch the children while she was in the hospital.
According to the arrest report, Bell admitted he made a mistake. He said while he promised Boothe he would care for the kids, he fell asleep about 2 p.m.
Boothe said Monday that Bell is dedicated father who simply fell asleep on the couch while watching his kids. She says her children are adventurous and love to be outside.
"Anything can fall apart in a matter of moments," Boothe said. "He's an awesome father and he would never leave his kids up for grabs or neglect them."
When asked about the drugs in the house, Boothe admitted it was bad choice.
"People make their mistakes and they learn from them," she said. "So definitely, I can say lessons learned for both of us."
Boothe said she was in the hospital recovering from pneumonia and severe acid reflux when the children wandered off.
With the Department of Children and Families now investigating the incident, Boothe is focused on moving forward and hopes that by sharing her story, others won't be so quick to judge.
"We're going to make it through this, and I would appreciate if, for those of you who hear this story, just try to watch how you judge," she said.
DCF says the children are now in protective custody.
Bell made his first appearance Monday afternoon on six counts of child neglect. He'll be back in court May 23.
Bell has one prior arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession in Clay County. He pleaded no contest to that charge.
Boothe told Channel 4 Monday that she will do what it takes to get her kids back.
"I'm trying to see about getting my children and also taking drug rehab classes too ," said Boothe.
The process of a parent getting their children back can take six months to a year according John Harrell with the Department of Children and Family Services.
"Judges are involved ," said DCF, John Harrell. "We have agencies that we contract with to provide foster care.
Harrell told Channel 4 Monday night that parents could have to undergo parenting classes, therapy and counseling before the children would be returned. Until then, the kids will be put in foster care or taken in by a family member who's been cleared by an extensive background check.
Those agencies develop a case plan that addresses the issues that caused the parent to lose their children ," said Harrell.