Niagara Gazette — It was raining and the temperatures were falling into the 40s on Oct. 28 when Falls Police Officer Tommy Caldwell was dispatched to a call of a "found child" in the 500 block of Ferry Avenue.
When Caldwell pulled up, just before 10:30 p.m., he found a neighbor holding a small child.
"He had a 1-year-old little boy, wrapped in a blanket and he said he had found the child wandering around Sixth (Street) and Ferry (Avenue), crying, and he didn't see any parents around."
The child was wearing a one-piece jumper, and had no shoes or socks on. As Caldwell continued talking to the neighbor, Roving Anti-Crime Unit Officer Kevin Henderson also arrived on the call.
"We started searching for the parents," Henderson said. "We went down Sixth Street, and Tommy found a home (in the 500 block of Sixth Street), with the back door open, just off the alley."
As Henderson and Caldwell approached the home, they saw a rattle and pacifier lying in the grass.
"I thought we might be in the right place," Henderson said. "And then we went up the stairs of the home and found another open door."
The officers looked inside the apartment and announced their presence, but no one answered. As they stepped inside, they saw an open door to a bedroom.
"There, we saw a little boy and a little girl lying on a blanket on the floor," Caldwell said. "They were sleeping on the floor. There were two space heaters running on the blanket and a TV was on with cartoons playing."
Caldwell and Henderson continued to call out for parents, a babysitter or anyone who may have been there to watch over the children. Still, no one answered.
"At that point we didn't know where the parents were," Henderson said. "But we knew we had three small children (ages 1, 3 and 4) home alone."
As the officers stepped into the bedroom to check on the little boy and little girl, Caldwell saw an open closet door just a few feet from the children's heads and made a shocking discovery.
"Right there, lying on the floor of the closet was a sawed-off shotgun," Caldwell said. "I mean it was one of those things where you see it and you can't believe what you're looking at."
Henderson said he picked the shotgun up to move it away from the children.
"I looked at it and I thought, it can't be loaded," the veteran RAC officer said. "But then I checked it and, oh yeah, it's loaded and there were four rounds (of shotgun shells) in there."
The officers called for a case worker from Child Protective Services and Henderson went back outside to see if any adults had come back to the home. At this point, the officers said they had been on the call for more than 45 minutes.
"When I went outside, I saw two women standing across the street," Henderson said. "When I approached them, they split up and started running in opposite directions."
Henderson managed to collar Shamara Nay Winn. The officer told Winn that police were investigating a 1-year-old child found wandering the streets and she told him she had an infant son that she had left with another woman in the Sixth Street home.
After seeing a photo of the child, Winn told Henderson that was her son.
"She told me that she had left the child with the (occupant) of the apartment and gone to drink with some friends at Crick Court," Henderson said.
As Henderson continued to question Winn, several other women, including the occupant of the apartment, Angela Maxwell, arrived on the scene. They told a different story than Winn.
Maxwell told police that she left the apartment and that Winn was watching all three children. The mother of the 3 and 4 year olds also said she had left her kids in Winn's care.,
Winn, 18, 510 1/2 Sixth St., was charged with endangering the welfare of a child.
Caldwell and Henderson then questioned Maxwell about the loaded sawed-off shotgun.
"She said she knew it was in the closet," Henderson said. "And she said she never would have put those children in that room."
Maxwell said she had the shotgun for "protection" after having been involved in a shooting incident at her previous home in the 1500 block of Pierce Avenue.
Maxwell, 37, 510 1/2 Sixth St., was also arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.