A Utah teacher is facing kidnapping charges after she says she intervened to help a 5-year-old get home safely after seeing the child “sobbing uncontrollably” before wandering off school property.
“I did not kidnap a child. I followed a clearly distraught child as she left the school grounds. I felt she was not safe traveling alone,” Amy Louise Martz told reporters Thursday, according to Deseret News.
Martz, a 49-year-old sixth grade teacher at Fox Hollow Elementary School, was charged with the felony on Monday in connection with an incident in early September, when a woman reported that her autistic 5-year-old daughter never came home from school.
Martz and her attorney say the whole thing is a misunderstanding complicated by a language barrier, as the 5-year-old girl is apparently autistic and speaks Spanish at home. While authorities have charged Martz because they say she took an unauthorized walk with the child off school property, the teacher insists she spent most of the time trying to lead the girl to her parents, first trying to take her to the bus stop and then the parent pick-up spot. She said the little girl shook her head both times.
“At each fork in the road I stopped and said, ‘Which way home?’ She would point confidently and said, ‘This way home,” Martz was quoted saying by Deseret News.
At some point, however, she said she “realized this cute girl did not know where she was going.”
The walk ultimately took the girl more than a half-mile away from school grounds and lasted about 40 minutes, authorities said. The two were eventually brought back to campus by another teacher who spotted them. According to charging documents, surveillance footage recorded Martz “walking hand-in-hand” with the girl on school property.
Martz said she didn't intend to be gone for so long but had left her cellphone at school, leading her to ask a neighborhood resident to borrow a phone and call the school.
The teacher of 24 years claimed that she tried to explain her intentions to the girl's father but that there was an apparent language barrier that prevented him from “understanding (her) good intentions and the safety (she) had provided.”
After receiving a reprimand from the school and being denied a second chance to explain herself to the parents, Martz said she found out about the child kidnapping charges against her after being contacted by the media. She turned herself in, was booked into the county jail, and posted bail.
If convicted, Martz faces up to 15 years to life in prison.
“I had no intent to interfere with the child’s trip home. I was providing safety to what I felt was a vulnerable child because she was distraught. I did not learn until later that she had autism,” Martz told reporters on Thursday, adding that she was “acting out of compassion” for the child.
“It’s a sad commentary on our society when educators who responsibly help children are disciplined and charged with crimes,” Martz said. “I plead with the prosecutor to drop the charges against me.”