A real-life “Home Alone” story of twin 9-year-old brothers in New Hampshire who managed to basically take care of themselves for a third of a year is in part a case of child endangerment, but also, upon closer inspection, a stunning tale of childhood ingenuity.
Few would agree with decisions made by the boys’ uncle, who told police he’d stop by every few days while the parents were on a trip in Africa. The parents, Jerusalem and Catherine Monday, left the United States in July, expecting to return in August. But they were delayed in Nigeria for another three months.
For their part, the boys transitioned from summer vacation into the school routine: They came home from school every day, ate snacks, watched TV until their failure to pay the cable bill got it shut off, did homework, got ready for bed, hopefully brushed their teeth, went to sleep, got up the next morning, got dressed, got on the school bus – all on their own. Neighbors say they regularly saw the boys and didn’t have any concerns about them.
“The kids were so resourceful that they managed to take care of themselves and handled whatever problems that came along,” says Michael Valentine, the Hillsborough County, N.H., prosecutor handling the case. “They could call for help, but they were really in charge of their own well-being.”
He continues: “I recall us [authorities] asking about setting alarm clocks. They certainly knew what time school started, they’d get themselves downstairs, out of the building, onto the bus. A lot of the time, they would get breakfast and lunch at school, so they would be mostly taken care of that way.”
He adds: “The uncle claimed that he would drop off food somewhat regularly, but when the officers were there, there was only some ramen in the cabinets.”
To be sure, the boys’ ordeal highlights a few realities of childhood development.
Nine-year-olds have just crossed some major milestones. They show the first glimmers of the teenagers they’ll soon be. They can fix their own breakfast, and they’re known to roam around streets in loose packs, sometimes armed with hockey sticks. They dominate at video games like Minecraft. Hunting magazines in Georgia, at least, often feature 9-year-olds showing off the trophy buck they hunted and shot by themselves.
Yet it is also clear that the New Hampshire twins still needed more help than they were getting.
The boys’ school finally realized something was wrong when one of them came to class underdressed during an early-November cold snap. When asked whether their uncle could get them some warmer clothes and shoes, the boys said he didn’t live with them, according to Mr. Valentine.
The uncle, Giobari Atura, who is in his 20s and is the younger brother of Mr. Monday, was charged in December with one count of child endangerment, a misdemeanor. He posted $500 bail.
In a country that is having an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of helicopter parenting versus so-called free-range parenting, the case has stirred up emotions among county officials and the state child welfare agency in New Hampshire.
While authorities at first wondered whether the parents had been neglectful, it soon became clear, according to the affidavit, that the problem was that the uncle had reneged on a promise to move in with the children for the duration of their parents’ absence. In that way, the story may say more about the development of 20-somethings than the capabilities of 9-year-olds.
The family is now back together, an apparent happy ending to an incident that has given America a surprising look into the minds of 9-year-olds.
“What’s fascinating is their thought process, which was apparently, ‘Yeah, we go to school, our uncle checks on us occasionally, and this is OK, it’s OK that our parents have left us,’ ” says Valentine, noting that the children never complained about their situation to the many adults, including neighbors, who saw them every day.