Erin Lee Macke, 30, travelled from Johnston, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines, to Germany on September 20 without arranging child care for her children, two aged 12 and the others 6 and 7, Johnson police said.
When police asked the children where their mother was, they said she left them and the country, KCCI reported.
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"I've never heard of anything like this before", Johnston police Lt. Tyler Tompkins told CBS affiliate KCCI.
Macke allegedly told police she could not find babysitters for her children. She told authorities that none of her babysitters could watch the kids, so she just chose to leave her two pre-teens in charge, police say. She was scheduled to get back to the US on October 1st.
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Police on September 21 discovered the children at the house, notified child protective services and then called Macke in Germany, ordering her to return. She was arrested on her return. Police called Macke while she was in Germany and demanded she return home. She faces four counts of child endangerment with a substantial risk.
Anti-child abuse advocates say it doesn't matter how old a child is, leaving them alone is not a good idea. "When officers arrived at the apartment, that's when they found the four children home alone in the apartment", said Lieutenant Lynn Aswegan of the Johnston Police Department.
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"This, where a parent has left the country and left the kids home alone", Tompkins said, "I've never heard of it before".
Macke was arrested Thursday and is being held at Polk County Jail facing four counts of child endangerment and one count of giving a firearm to a person under age 21, The Des Moines Register reported.
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They are now in the care of extended family members.