Woman arrested after police find child in Washington City shoeless, without clothes in triple-digit temps

Composite image with background stock photo and overlay of Washington City Police vehicle taken in Washington City, Utah, May 11, 2021 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A woman was arrested Saturday for felony child abandonment after her 6-year-old child was found wandering barefoot around Hell Hole Park in Washington City sunburned and wearing only box shorts, one of several similar calls officers have responded to since March.

In this 2019 file photo for illustrative purposes only the official opening of the Canyon Park and Hell Hole Trailhead in Washington City, Utah, Nov. 23, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

On Saturday evening, officers in Washington City arrested 30-year-0ld Tahney Danielle Dunham, and she was transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility facing one third-degree felony count of child abandonment with physical injury, according to charging documents filed in support of the arrest.

The arrest stems from a call to emergency dispatch shortly before 6 p.m. when an individual reported they found a small child on North Red Trail Lane who appeared to be about 5 years old wearing only underpants and was walking around without any shoes on. The initial report also stated the child was possibly autistic.

Officers arrived to find the child who was partially dirty and wearing only boxer briefs. Police say three witnesses on scene reported that the child was wandering around the park for at least 45 minutes – or possibly longer – before authorities arrived.

The officer also noted that the thermometer in his patrol vehicle registered 107 degrees, and a weather app indicated the outside temperature was 102 degrees when the officer encountered the child.

The child was unable to provide his name or where he lived to the officer, who also noted the youngster did not appear to have any possessions with him. The child did, however, have an obvious sunburn, as his face and shoulders were bright red, the report states, adding that “fortunately” a bystander had given the child some water.

The officer recalled several similar incidents involving the same youngster reported over the last few months and knew that the child’s mother, Dunham, lived in an apartment complex nearby. The address was confirmed by another officer who responded to the apartment and spoke to the child’s mother, who confirmed that her son, a 6-year-old who is autistic, was unaccounted for.

This was the sixth similar call to police reporting a child found in the area and not under the care of his mother, Washington City Police Chief Jason told St. George News on Monday. Five of these calls have been reported since March. Officers also responded to a call last year after the child was found wandering around, he said, in addition to a call that was reported to another law enforcement agency in Washington County.

When officers returned to the apartment with the child on Saturday, they spoke with the mother’s boyfriend who reportedly told police the family had ordered pizza earlier in the evening and then the boy’s mother went to take a nap. The boyfriend then explained that while he was watching the boy he had to use the restroom, which must have been when the child slipped out of the house. He also told officers he had been looking for the child until officers arrived at the apartment, the report states.

Police say the mother said that she had been napping but also said she believed the child had been missing for approximately 20 minutes. When the officer told her it had been closer to 45 minutes in the severe heat according to witness accounts, she reportedly said that her son’s autism causes him to be an “escape risk,” adding they must have forgotten to lock the door after the pizza was delivered.

Stock image of Washington City Police patrol vehicles | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

According to the report, the mother also told officers she had installed new safety locks on the door but forgot to engage them.

Given the number of recent incidents when police have been called out to a found child report and the mother’s “failure to make or provide suitable arrangements to keep her severely disabled son out of harms way,” the mother was arrested and transported to jail. The charges as listed previously were forwarded to the Washington County Attorney’s Office for review.

Following Saturday’s arrest, the incident, along with another similar incident previously reported, were reported to the Division of Children Family Services.

Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained. 

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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