MORGAN HILL -- In a confession to police, Marcy Keelin said she was "so sorry" for abandoning her 10-year-old daughter with $150 worth of stolen groceries at a Safeway in a case that branded her as a horrible mother.
But "I was just so scared," the Morgan Hill mom told police after they tracked her down more than a week later at a Nevada motel room.
Panicked, she had fled, according to a police report obtained Tuesday by this newspaper, leaving her daughter in the hands of police and making her the subject of national outrage.
But in an exclusive interview Tuesday after a brief hearing in the Morgan Hill courthouse, Keelin, 38, a graduate of Oak Grove High School in San Jose, said the whole case is a big misunderstanding.
In her first interview about the Sept. 19 incident, Keelin gave a version of events that was a complete reversal from what she told police.
She said she had left her daughter at the Safeway with her boyfriend, Eldon Price, while she was at a nearby park with her 5-year-old when police were called. Price has not been charged. But Keelin said it was her boyfriend, not her, who fled when police showed up. "That's why he's my ex-boyfriend now."
"I've always been a good mom." said Keelin, who has five children who range in age from 21 to 1. "I don't leave my kids anywhere."
The only mistake she made, she said, was loading up her 11-month-old son and heading with her boyfriend toward Rock Springs, Wyo., where she says she raised her children, coached volleyball and led Sunday school classes until her husband was imprisoned for burglary more than a year ago. She moved to Morgan Hill in June, so her mother could help with the children.
"I should have gone and talked to police," she said. "I was just scared. I couldn't believe what they were saying."
Keelin is out on $50,000 bail and forbidden from seeing her children, who are staying with her mother.
She appeared in court Tuesday wearing a sleeveless top, revealing a small butterfly tattoo on her shoulder. She is charged with a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and a felony charge of commercial burglary. If convicted, she could face a maximum three-year sentence. In court Tuesday, she didn't enter a plea. Instead, the judge set a new court date for Nov. 13.
Keelin says she is suffering from mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and wasn't taking her medication when the incident occurred at the Safeway on Tennant Station Way. She is living on government aid, she said, because she is on permanent disability. She had enough money and food stamps to pay for groceries, she said, and maintains she did not instigate any shoplifting.
She said she left the grocery store after becoming frustrated when her 5-year-old was acting up, so she "threw the basket aside" and headed with her son to a nearby park. She left her daughter to get herself an ice water from the in-store Starbucks and her boyfriend, Price, outside smoking, she said.
That's when she got the call that her daughter was in trouble.
"The whole time I'm like, 'Where the hell is my boyfriend at?''" Keelin said. "And why are they threatening my kid that they're going to put her in a shelter?"
Police say, however, that Keelin knew very well what was going on -- and it wasn't the first time she used her daughter as a foil for shoplifting. Keelin admitted as much to police after she was apprehended at a Nevada motel a week and a half later, according to the police report.
"She explained her daughter learned it from her because she stole groceries in the same manner once before at the same store, Safeway, in her presence," the police report said, referring to a videotaped interview. "She stated it was all her fault. She should not have done it."
She said she was having trouble with her welfare and debit cards, the report said, so "it was easy to just get the stuff." She said her daughter "told her she would just 'push the cart out' so she went out to get the car. She stated she shouldn't have done that but was frustrated with all the cards."
Keelin told police she "sent her boyfriend in three times to get her to stop her daughter, but when her daughter was stopped by the store employee she panicked."
Police caught up with her on Sept. 28. As police brought her back to the Bay Area, Keelin made such comments as "I'm so sorry," "I was just so scared," and "I didn't mean to cause all this.''
Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.