A man accused along with his wife of abandoning their 9-year-old foster son at a Cleveland Browns game denied leaving the boy behind, calling it a misunderstanding.
Ernest Fugate said he and his wife had tickets for different sections of the stadium's end-zone area called the Dawg Pound during the game, and each thought the other one had the boy.
"Neither one of us knew the child was lost," he told The Associated Press on Friday.
Fugate and his wife, Anna, both of Circleville, have pleaded not guilty to child endangering.
According to a police report, two people said a woman sent the boy off with them while they were walking in to the game between the Browns and Miami Dolphins on Sept 25. The two people then turned the boy over to security, the report said.
The boy told detectives the couple had argued while partying before the game and that Ernest Fugate, 54, departed to enter the stadium, leaving him with the foster mother. Fans told officers that the seats where the boy was supposed to be sitting had been empty throughout the game.
Officers stopped the couple in their car after the game, the report said. Police said the couple first told them the child had walked away before the game and then said they thought he was with the other parent.
"When asked why they were leaving without the child, they shrugged," the report said. They then laughed when an officer asked why they didn't report the child missing, the report said.
Fugate said on Friday that they did not try to leave without the boy. He said he didn't know anything was wrong until he returned to his car before his wife after the game and found police officers waiting there.
"We love that kid," Fugate said while crying. "He was my little guy. It was just an honest mistake. My wife and I didn't mean any harm to that child."
They went to the game because the boy is a Miami Dolphins fan, said Fugate, who spent 25 years as a guard at an Ohio youth prison before retiring.
He and his 56-year-old wife had been foster parents for the last seven years and they've taken in about 15 children during that time, he said. "And now that's gone over one little misunderstanding," Fugate said.