AIKEN - Sitting barefoot and nervous on her front porch Wednesday afternoon, Tamekka Adams said she regretted abandoning her 5-year-old son in a New York toy store four months ago, but she hopes to get him back.
Ms. Adams, 19, who now lives in Aiken, said not being able to provide for her son Jonathan drove her to leave him in Toys 'R' Us in Brooklyn on March 21. Wednesday night New York authorities issued an arrest warrant charging her with one count of child abandonment.
She was being held in the Aiken County Detention Center on Wednesday night. An extradition hearing is scheduled today in Aiken County Magistrate's Court.
Jonathan, who was born in South Carolina, is now in a New York foster home.
"At the time I was under a lot of pressure and stress," Ms. Adams said before her arrest.
"I thought maybe he would be able to live with two adults with a steady income and who could plan the next meal for tomorrow instead of someone switching jobs like I do," she said between occasional puffs from a cigarette. "I know that what I did was wrong, but if it takes a year or two years, I hope to get him back."
Ms. Adams, who doesn't have a high school diploma, said she was making $4.25 an hour at a fast-food restaurant and living with her grandmother in New Ellenton. She had to move to her aunt's and finally her boyfriend's in Aiken since quarters were becoming cramped.
Eventually, when her hours were cut at her job, she received no financial support from relatives, and went to New York to leave her son with her mother while she continued working to save money, she said.
The night she left Jonathan in the store, Ms. Adams said she had a dispute with her mother, who had changed her mind and refused to keep the boy.
After the argument, Jonathan asked to go to a toy store, she said.
"We were standing there looking at toys and I was like in a daze," she said, staring at the concrete steps of her porch. "I can't explain it. I love my child, but I didn't feel it was right for him to have to go from house to house. I felt that if he was left in the toy store nothing could happen to him. There were 10 or 12 security officers there."
Ms. Adams said she didn't put her son in foster care because she was told she would never get him back. Somehow, she reasoned, leaving the child in the store left open the possibility she could get her son back one day.
Having left her son behind, she said she returned to Aiken where she got little sleep and started living a lie.
"Nobody knew, I kept it from everybody," she said of that March 21 night. "Most of the time I'd say (Jonathan) was at his biological father's house in Columbia, Bible study or church if anybody asked. Not a day went by that I wasn't asking the Lord to watch over him."
Ms. Adams said it wasn't until Monday when her aunt showed her a newspaper clipping about the unidentified boy that she knew that he was OK.
On Monday night, New York police told Aiken County sheriff's deputies where to find Ms. Adams and deputies brought her in. Ms. Adams said she admitted to child protective services authorities in a phone call that she was Jonathan's mother.
If she doesn't fight the extradition request, she could be back in New York as early as Saturday, said Patrick Clark, spokesman for Kings County, N.Y., District Attorney Charles Hynes.
Aiken authorities said late Wednesday that Ms. Adams is cooperating and has indicated her willingness to return to New York.
Ms. Adams said she was scheduled to travel to New York on Aug. 13 to appear in a hearing on the matter.
A family court will decide what happens to the boy, said Nicholas Scoppetta, New York City's commissioner of children's services. He added that the possibility of the boy being reunited with his mother was "not a likely scenario."
Ms. Adams says today she feels better prepared to care for her son. She is scheduled to take her general equivalency development test next month and hopes to secure a better paying job.
"Now my mind is stronger and clear," she said. "As long as I have a strong mind, I can do anything. I know that what I did was wrong, but whatever the consequences, I just want my son."Kathy Steele and the Associated Press contributed to this story.