The 14-year-old Florida boy arrested last week for allegedly kidnapping a 3-year-old girl after walking her out of a store said today he was only trying to help the lost toddler find her mother.
"I was just trying to help," said the soft-spoken Edwin, who was shopping with his own mother at the time of his arrest, in an exclusive interview today with "Good Morning America."
Surveillance video of the incident at a Burlington Coat Factory shows Edwin walking out of the store with the little girl. He later told police that he thought her mother left the store without her.
Shortly after that, the little girl's panicked mother headed outside, found her daughter with Edwin and returned to the store. Edwin then rejoined his mother and continues shopping -- until a few minutes later when police show up and put him in handcuffs.
While Edwin was outside, a store clerk called 911 and reported what appeared to be a possible abduction.
"She doesn't know the guy at all," the clerk said in the call. "She was at the cash register. Her child was right next to her. The guy was walking out of the store, called the child over to him. She went over to him and walked out of the store."
Both Edwin's mother and the surveillance video appear to contradict the clerk's story.
"He didn't call her over," Edwin's mother, Mildred Roman, said. "He noticed the child was left alone."
Roman said her son thought the girl may have been with a group of women that walked out of the store just moments before.
"He told me he was going to help the little girl find her mommy," Roman said.
The girl's mother was not among the group of women, but she eventually came outside and saw her daughter. The mother ran to Roman and her son and thanked them, Roman said.
Minutes later police showed up.
"Without pretty much saying much, they pulled him into the aisle and handcuffed him," Roman said.
The arrest report acknowledges the boy appears to have been trying to help the child, but concludes by saying there was "probable cause" for arrest under charges of "false imprisonment."
Cop's History of Controversy
The arresting officer, Sgt. Richard Mankewich, has a history of controversy involving race. In a 1997 case that gained national attention, Mankewich arrested an off-duty black Miami police major. Those charges were dropped. In 2004 Mankewich shot and killed an unarmed black man.
The arrest of Edwin, who is African-American, has prompted criticism from local news outlets and residents. According to an unscientific poll by The Orlando Sentinel, 93 percent of respondents did not agree with how the police handled the situation.
Edwin's lawyer, Natalie Jackson, told "Good Morning America" that if convicted, Edwin would go to juvenile detention and could serve up to five years. Until now, the boy had a pristine record with no criminal history, Jackson said.
But she said it's unlikely the Orange County state attorney would choose to file charges.
"The problem is, now he has an arrest record," Jackson said. "We are challenging them [the state attorny's office] today to do the right thing and dismiss this case against Edwin."
Jackson also called the sheriff's department to expunge Edwin's arrest record.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings has kept silent about his department's actions so far.
"The sheriff is holding back," department spokesman Capt. Angelo Nieves told the Sentinel. "It's not a refusal to talk. He's letting the information run it's course."
If he had it to do all over again, Edwin said he would still help the little girl, but maybe alert an adult and "ask for help" next time.