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Jewish World Review June 30, 1999 /16 Tamuz 5759

Bob Greene

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'He's 9 years old . . . he trusts people' --
CINCINNATI ---- No bloodshed, no gunfire, no screams.

Yet when Matt Hale, a Butler County deputy sheriff, was on patrol in Liberty Township, just north of here, and saw the little boy crouched on the ground in 90-degree sun, he sensed something was wrong.

So the deputy stopped his car and approached the boy--Aaron Faughn, 9.

He asked the boy if he was OK, and when the boy looked up the deputy didn't need to hear any words to know the answer. The child was distraught.

Here is what had happened:

Aaron wanted to earn some money to buy some trading cards based on a popular cartoon character. He got the idea -- as boys have for generations -- to sell lemonade near his home. His mom gave her permission; Aaron set up a card table, mixed some lemonade and set out to sell it, at 25 cents a cup.

He did it all day, in the intense heat. By late afternoon, he had sold enough lemonade to make $11.

That's when two older boys--16 and 17--pulled up in a red Chevrolet Blazer. They got out and asked Aaron if he had change for a $10 bill.

Aaron counted his money. He had six one-dollar bills, and he said he thought he had four more dollars in quarters. He told the older boys he would change their ten, which they were still holding.

One of the older boys told Aaron that he wanted to count the bills himself. So Aaron--he was new at this lemonade business--handed the teenager the six one-dollar bills.

The teenagers got into their car and drove away with Aaron's money. Just as easy as that--they took his money and they were gone.

That's why he was crouching in the sun when Deputy Hale passed by--this was the first day he had ever tried to go out and earn money, and this is what had happened, and he was devastated.

"He's 9 years old," said his mother, Debbie Faughn. "He trusts people."

It was not the crime of the century. Yet law-enforcement officers were deeply angered.

"I'm not sure what it was that got to us so much," said Butler County Sheriff's Detective Debby Branigan. "Maybe it's just that here was a kid who decided to try to earn some money in an honest way, and he put in the effort all day in the heat--and then the bigger people take the money he's worked for just because they can do it."

That sums it up pretty well. And not just at a neighborhood lemonade stand in Ohio. A case can be made that what happened here is what happens, in much larger scale, all over the world, wherever there is bullying, wherever there is predatory crime, wherever there is warfare. The bigger and more powerful take what they want just because they're strong enough to do it, and because they think no one will stop them. When it happens on a global stage, between nations, it makes the history books. When it happens to a little boy . . .

Well, usually no one notices. They did here.

"We told him we'd find out who did it," Detective Branigan said.

Deputies Jim Mueller and Ray Moore, working from the boy's descriptions of the thieves and their vehicle, soon found the teenagers who allegedly robbed the child. According to the officers, the teenagers said they took the child's money because they wanted to buy gas. They were arrested and face trial.

Things like that happen more often than we would like to believe; we just don't hear about it. In Chicago, around New Year's, there was a massive blizzard that filled streets with snow. You probably remember it. On the South Side, a 13-year-old boy went out into the cold and shoveled his neighbors' sidewalks to try to earn a little spending money. While most people were staying indoors, that boy worked.

Coming home at night, cold and wet and tired and with $7 for his efforts, the boy was stopped by an older teenager who, according to police, held a gun to the boy. The older teenager ordered the boy into a vacant lot--and took not only the $7 the boy had earned, but the boy's snowsuit as well.

No one was killed, so it wasn't big news. But these things stick. When a child learns that if he works and does things the right and honest way, someone bigger may simply decide to take what he has worked for . . . that's a lesson that doesn't go away.

Here in southwestern Ohio, Aaron Faughn was treated kindly by the community and made his lemonade money back after the word got out about what had been done to him. But the people who know him ask themselves what lasting lesson he will take from this. That people can be nice -- or that people will take advantage of you just because they can?

"I don't know," Detective Branigan said. "Aaron kept thanking us and thanking us--but the fact is, this was done to him on the very first day in his life he tried to work. I don't know what he'll end up taking away from this."

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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