The Iowa mother packed her bags and boarded a plane bound for Europe.
Last September, Erin Lee Macke had planned to spend 11 days visiting relatives in Germany, but police said she left four other family members at home alone — her then-12-year-old twins and 6- and 7-year-old daughters.
“She felt comfortable that the kids were responsible enough to take care of themselves during that duration,” Lt. Lynn Aswegan, with the Johnston Police Department, told People magazine at the time.
Macke, 31, entered an Alford plea, in which she acknowledged that the government had enough evidence to convict her of four counts of child endangerment, but denied guilt. She was sentenced Thursday to two years’ probation — avoiding possible prison time, according to the Des Moines Register.
It was a Wednesday in September when Macke jetted off on a European vacation — one that, by all indications, was “a social venture,” the police lieutenant said.
Court documents state that Macke planned to have neighbors check in on her children from Sept. 20-22 until her brother was available to watch them. Then she would return on Oct. 1.
After the children spent a night alone in their home near Des Moines, one child’s father reported the incident to police when he received a phone call from the child, according to the newspaper.
When officers arrived the evening of Sept. 21, they found the twins preparing a meal for their younger sisters, Aswegan, the police lieutenant, told People. Aswegan said one of the 12-year-olds led officers to the mother’s bedroom, where she had left a gun and ammunition.
Police alerted child protective services and got in touch with Macke, who reportedly had been posting photos from the Danube River and the Walhalla memorial in Germany.
“She didn’t understand or agree with the concern,” the police lieutenant told People.
Police told the mother to fly back home. She did — a full week later — and was promptly arrested. She was charged with four counts of child endangerment and one count of giving a minor access to a gun.
A judge told Macke that she could not see her children.
“You are to have no contact with them — direct, indirect, writing, phone, voice messaging, text messaging,” the judge told her last year, as seen in a video taken by CBS affiliate KCCI. “No contact whatsoever. That includes going to the address.”
“I don’t go there, or they don’t go there?” Macke asked.
This led to a confused exchange among the defendant, judge and a county lawyer, as the court tried to determine whether the children were still at Macke’s house.
The lawyer said that she had no confirmation that child services had placed the children elsewhere, while Macke sounded certain they were all safe with relatives.
In February, Macke entered an Alford plea and prosecutors dropped the gun charge as part of the plea agreement.
The Des Moines Register reported earlier this month that Matthew Macke, the father of the two younger children, was granted primary custody of them; arrangements are still being determined for the two older children, who have a different father.
“Erin’s decision to leave the children was intentional, done knowingly and she has not accepted any responsibility and continued to place blame on everyone else,” Matthew Macke told the court during his victim impact statement, according to the newspaper. He added that “Erin refuses to admit that her choices put the children at a substantial risk of harm.”
A victim advocate for the other father, Matthew McQuary, read a statement for him, saying the mother “does not feel any remorse or responsibility for her actions.”
Erin Macke’s attorney, Michael Oliver, acknowledged that his client made a mistake but told the court that she should be able to make amends and move on from it. “The drama that has surrounded this case has been fanned by the fathers in this case,” he said.
On Thursday, Polk County District Judge Carol Egly upheld Macke’s no-contact order with her children but said she believes “these children need to have some sort of direct contact with their mother as soon as possible.”
The judge advised the attorneys to come up with an arrangement, requiring Macke to complete counseling and then allow her to have contact with her children.