Four unemployed, single mothers surrendered to police after they were seen on surveillance footage taking items from a Hawaii toy store before Christmas, Honolulu police said Wednesday.
The women, ages 22, 25, 26 and 30, were arrested Tuesday at the Kaneohe police station, near the Windward Mall Toys R Us where police say there were among a group seen hauling away about $1,000 worth of merchandise on Dec. 1. They were arrested on suspicion of second-degree theft, booked and later released pending further investigation, said Caroline Sluyter, a police spokeswoman.
Several of the women contacted attorney Myles Breiner last week after police released the footage and asked the public for help finding them. The remorseful women took the toys as gifts for their children, he said, and that he made arrangements for police to take the 24 items, most of which were taken to his office gift-wrapped, to be returned to the store's manager.
Some of the women's children, all younger than 10, had received some of the toys as presents only to have them taken away. "As I understand the kids were distressed," Breiner said. "They had to give them up."
One of the women is six months pregnant, Breiner said. A fifth single mother and a man were not on the island and are expected to surrender by Monday, he said, adding that the man is not a parent.
One of them had a job until news of her arrest got her fired, Breiner said.
"This seemed like a very desperate situation," he said, adding that he's helping them pro bono. He's representing one woman and arranged for the others to get representation. "I felt I could do something to lessen the impact."
He said he's hoping for leniency from authorities. The theft has drawn widespread attention, he noted, with a range of reaction from sympathy for the women's situation to anger because many other down-on-their-luck moms don't resort to stealing.
Several people across Hawaii have contacted Breiner each offering $500 to $1,000 to help the women, he said.
"It's not like they walked into a store and stole an Armani jacket or Coach purse," he said. "These are children's toys. They're decent people...that's the saddest part."
Stressing that it's not an excuse for what they did, Breiner said the women were desperate to "meet their kids' expectations," in a state that's expensive to live in.
Residents of the Aloha State can pay about $7 for a gallon of milk and pay more on average than people in any other state at the gasoline pump. Hawaii has the third-highest ratio of homeless people to residents of any state and had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate last month of 6.5 percent. Nationwide, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 8.6 percent last month.