It wasn’t the first time Roeland Park Police Officer Mark Engravalle had gotten a call from the city’s Walmart about a person caught shoplifting. But it was the first time he ever seen anything like the family he encountered in the company’s Asset Protection office.
A mother and her 15-year-old daughter were distraught, having been caught trying to steal nearly $300 worth of merchandise. When officer Engravalle took a look at what the two had been trying to walk away with, though, it was clear the family was in dire straights. There were diapers and wipes and girls clothing. Engravalle and his partner noticed that the three youngest of the woman’s five daughters — a 4-year-old and two 2-year-olds — weren’t wearing shoes. There were shoes of several sizes among the items the woman and her oldest daughter had tried to steal.
“The young kids were barefoot, with their feet all dirty,” said Engravalle.
Engravalle asked the mother if they had money to buy the things they were trying to steal. She said no. He asked her if the girls had shoes. She said no and broke down crying.
The mother said she had just used her last money to put down a security deposit on a basement apartment, but a dispute with the landlord had left the family locked out of what they hoped would be their new home. The woman and her five daughters were living out of a car.
Engravalle thought of his own kids, ages 2 and 6. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be in the mother’s position with his own kids.
The mother and her daughter had broken the law, and the police department didn’t have any choice but to issue a citation for theft. But Engravalle couldn’t bear the thought of the young girls going barefoot or the 2-year-olds not having diapers. He asked the 15-year-old to go pick out some shoes for her sisters. He added some diapers and wipes, and paid for the items out of his own pocket.
It’s an act of kindness that has drawn accolades from Roeland Park Police Chief John Morris.
“Though a citation was issued for theft, the compassion that this officer showed was incredible to say the least,” Morris said. “We try to make a difference here in Roeland Park, and this proves to be one of those moments”
Engravalle said he felt “honored to be able to make something light out of a bad situation.”
“I know it’s tough for them,” he said. “Obviously she’s going through a tough time. Walmart might see her as a criminal, but I just saw her as a mom who was going through a really difficult time.”
The case is pending in Roeland Park Municipal Court.