THORNDIKE, Maine — A local woman whom police say intentionally burned her 6-year-old son’s hand on the wood stove was arrested and charged last week in connection with the incident.
Police from the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office received a referral from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services about Michele Dunworth, 30, of Thorndike after her son’s teacher asked him what had happened to his hand. The bandaged boy had what appeared to have been a second- or third-degree burn that was several inches long, police said.
“He told the staff at the school that his mother had put his hand against the wood stove basically to discipline him,” Lt. Jason Trundy said Monday. “He’d been playing with his sister. She’d fallen and burned herself to some degree. His mother’s way of teaching him a lesson was to put his hand against the wood stove. That’s what he told the staff.”
Deputy Nick Oettinger, the school resource officer for Regional School Unit 3, spoke to the boy, who told him the same story. Then the deputy spoke to Dunworth, who said it wasn’t true, Trundy said.
“The mother claims the boy pushed the girl and they both got burned on the stove. She denies putting his hand against it,” Trundy said. “But another child in the home, the 7-year-old sister, was interviewed. Her story was identical to the little boy’s. Based on the testimony of both the little boy and little girl in the home, we made the decision that we felt we had probable cause to charge the mother.”
Dunworth was arrested on Jan. 21 and charged with domestic violence assault and endangering the welfare of a child. She was taken to Waldo County Jail in Belfast to be booked and remained there until being freed on $500 cash bail the next day.
Law enforcement and DHHS officials, though concerned about the children’s safety, decided not to remove the boy from the home and not to impose a no-contact provision on Dunworth’s bail conditions.
“That was a really unusual case,” Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker said Monday afternoon, adding that the children do not have many relatives in the area.
Trundy said that Dunworth recently moved to Thorndike and lived with a man who wasn’t the children’s father.
As part of her conditions of release, Dunworth will be working with the nonprofit group Volunteers of America, which contracts with the Waldo County Jail to supervise some people before or after their trials.
“There’s a VOA worker who will go out there and monitor things,” Walker said. “It’s not like there’s not going to be any follow-up at all.”