Austin mother charged with felony for abandoning child at store


by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and Photojournalist JOHN GUSKY

Posted on February 8, 2013 at 7:20 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 8 at 7:21 PM

AUSTIN -- An Austin mother is in serious trouble after investigators claim she left her young daughter alone at a store in Cedar Park in order to teach her a lesson.

Tricia Copenhaver, 39, is charged with felony child endangerment - abandoning a child.

Cedar Park police say Copenhaver and her eight-year-old daughter were inside a Verizon Wireless store in the 1890 Ranch shopping center on Feb. 4.

According to her arrest affidavit, Copenhaver told the child she'd leave her if she didn't stop playing video games. When the child didn't respond, Copenhaver went through with her threat.

Investigators say Copenhaven drove around the building twice and saw her daughter was still inside playing video games, so she drove away.

When the eight-year-old discovered her mother had left the mobile phone store, she wandered the parking lot looking for her. In the meantime, Copenhaver had gone shopping at a nearby Ross.

The little girl eventually returned to the Verizon store and asked for help. An employee called Copenhaver's cell phone. She showed up 16 minutes later.

Someone alerted police who filed charges.

Parents KVUE spoke with can't imagine what Copenhaver was thinking.

“I think it's insane that a woman would leave an eight-year-old in a store by themselves. If she wasn't behaving you go home,” said Crystal Payne.   

“I think you need to get your kids to understand that when you mean business, you mean business, and you need to get your child to respond,” said Heather Gabbi.

Child psychologist Louise Tedford says it's not uncommon for parents to get fed up with their kids' behavior, but advises there are other ways to handle the situation.

“It's usually a slow build to get to that point,” Tedford said. “When you tell a child, 'If you don't behave, then I'm leaving,' you're giving the child the message you can't handle the situation. We really want to concentrate on the bigger picture, which is how can we help out child behave well in public places in general.”

Copenhaver's attorney, Randy Leavitt, released this statement: “We are surprised that charges were filed. Tricia met with the investigating officers who were extremely polite and understanding of the situation. She explained to them what she did and why. She never dreamed it would result in her being charged with a felony offense.”

Leavitt says Copenhaver will continue to cooperate with authorities and hopes to resolve the case quickly.

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