GENEVA, Ill. — A real-life "Home Alone" ended less than comically on Tuesday when the parents of two young children returned from a nine-day Christmas vacation and were arrested aboard their plane on charges of leaving their daughters alone at home.
David and Sharon Schoo of Campton Township, an upper-middle-class community 50 miles west of Chicago, were charged with felony child abandonment within moments of their arrival at O'Hare International Airport. Authorities said the couple had no idea they were being sought by police, and had barely unbuckled their seat belts when a Chicago police officer met them and read them their rights.
The plight of the children--9-year-old Nicole and her 4-year-old sister, Diana--was discovered Dec. 21 after a smoke alarm accidentally went off and the older sister called 911. A neighbor said the little girls had been told to go outside by the emergency operator, who feared there was a fire, and they had run barefoot through the snow to her house.
Tanned and silent, the parents--who had been gone since Dec. 20 on an Acapulco holiday--were led by police through the jammed terminal as passersby swore at them and jeered, "Bah, humbug!" and "Scrooge!"
The two were later jailed on bond of $50,000 each. Their children, meanwhile, were in foster care pending a dependency court hearing next week.
Kane County authorities said relatives of the couple expressed bafflement at the decision to leave their daughters home alone unsupervised. The girls' maternal grandmother knew the Schoos were going on vacation, and had offered to care for the children while the parents were away, but the Schoos assured her that arrangements had been made, police said.
The paternal grandmother, meanwhile, told the Associated Press she had not heard from her son and daughter-in-law during their trip, and had "no idea" why the children were left alone.
But the neighbor who took the children in Dec. 21 said they had been left on their own before.
"Nicole told the police they were alone for four days when their parents went to Massachusetts last summer," said Connie Stadelmann, who has lived next door to the Schoo family since they moved to their three-bedroom home a year and a half ago. Stadelmann said Sharon Schoo, 35, was a stay-at-home mom. She was unsure of the occupation of David Schoo, who is 45.
In the hit movie "Home Alone," a suburban Chicago family goes to Paris and accidentally leaves their son, Kevin, behind. While his parents frantically struggle to return to him, the little boy has a series of slapstick adventures that end happily.
But in a brief interview Monday with a local television station, the elder daughter said the experience was "quite scary" at times.
"For a long time, I was feeling really lonely and wondering what they were doing," said the bespectacled 9-year-old. Her parents, she said, had simply told her and her sister that they should take care of themselves while they were away.
Stadelmann, the neighbor, said the Schoos had left the house at about 10 a.m. Dec. 20, adding that she had no idea the children had been left behind. It was only after the smoke alarm accidentally went off that she noticed the two children shivering in their yard.
"My son saw them outside and told them to come in," Stadelmann said. "They were barefoot. This isn't California--it's cold out! I wrapped them in blankets and asked the kids where their parents were. Nicole said, 'They're in Mexico.' "
According to a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the sisters were placed in a foster home Dec. 21, then turned over to Sharon Schoo's mother in nearby Aurora the next day. But on Tuesday, they were returned to foster care at the grandmother's request, pending a hearing Jan. 5.
Although child abandonment in some form occurs almost daily in nearby and much-more-urban Chicago, officials in Campton Township said such a thing is practically unheard of in their suburban community.
"Historically, and I'm guessing, but there has never been a case like this in Kane County," said David Clark, administrative chief for the Kane County state attorney's office.
Other residents, expressed shock.
"I don't understand how they could afford to go to Mexico, but they couldn't afford a baby-sitter," said Sue Richards of neighboring St. Charles. "I wouldn't leave my 5-year-old alone for five minutes."
But Eric O'Neil, another neighbor, reserved judgment.
"When I first heard about it, I did say to myself, 'This is like Home Alone,' " the 20-year-old salesman said. "But these parents knew they were leaving their kids, and they didn't even call home.
"Something's fishy. I'm pretty interested to hear the parents' side of the story."
Shryer reported from Chicago and Campton Township and Hubler from Los Angeles.