PHOENIX — Depending on the point of view, Shanesha Taylor is either a negligent mom who deserves being charged with child abuse or an overwhelmed single mother who made a mistake while trying to provide for her children.
Taylor, 35, was charged last month with felony child abuse after leaving her two young boys in a hot car while she interviewed for a job.
Taylor's situation, and her tearful mug shot, moved 45,000 people to sign an online petition that calls for charges to be dropped. Her case even prompted a stranger to raise more than $100,000 on her behalf.
Her attorney, Benjamin Taylor, said Monday that he hoped a deal could be reached to reduce or drop the charges.
"You have a single mother with children who is trying to do her best to provide for her family," said the attorney, no relation to Taylor. "We all make mistakes and nobody is perfect and … she was doing her best. But now does she deserve two felonies on her record because she made a mistake? If she's convicted, it will ruin her life."
Police say she left her boys, ages 6 months and 2 years, alone in her SUV for 38 minutes while in a job interview at a Farmers Insurance office in Scottsdale. Taylor, who has been living with friends or relatives, told police she was desperate to get a job and could not find child care for her two youngest children that day.
Mothers in Taylor's neighborhood reflect the divided opinion over her actions. Another single mom said Monday that she would have helped had she known Taylor's situation. A mother of three children said leaving a 6-month-old infant was simply unacceptable.
If convicted, Taylor faces a minimum of probation but could get up to seven years in prison. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has said he will not drop the charges, dismissing the change.org petition.
"I don't know whether any of these individuals in their pajamas who've logged on the site and put their names in there really had a clue of all the circumstance involved in this particular case," Montgomery said at a news conference last month.
Maricopa County Attorney's Office spokesman Jerry Cobb said that most of the people who joined the petition were from outside Arizona and perhaps were not aware that leaving a child inside a car in the desert state could be very dangerous.
"It's just baffling that she somehow is considered a victim," Cobb said.
Amanda Bishop, a New Jersey resident who describes herself as a "24-year-old girl struggling like Shanesha," set up an online fundraising account with youcaring.com last month. Bishop, who does not know Taylor, had hoped to raise $9,000. By Monday afternoon the account hit $113,482.
The website has received messages of support for Taylor, who is free on bail. "Deon," who donated $25 on Saturday, wrote: "What you did was not very wise and I hope you understand that now. However, I understand your predicament, being raised by a single mom and seeing her struggle often. Hopefully you don't lose your kids and don't go to prison."
On March 20, a passerby walking in the parking lot of a Scottsdale office complex saw a child crying inside an SUV and called police.
Officers found the SUV in the open, without any shade, and windows rolled down about an inch, a police report said. The driver's side door was unlocked, the key still in the ignition and the radio on.
The 6-month-old was wrapped in a blanket and, like his brother, buckled up. The air was on but it was blowing hot air from outside, police noted. The report said it was more than 100 degrees in the vehicle.
"Both were sweating profusely and appeared to be in distress," the report said. "The 6-month-old was crying hysterically and was in distress. The other child was just staring at the officer and the officer asked the child where his mother was and the child pointed outside the vehicle."
Taylor told officers that she was unemployed and did not have a baby-sitter to watch the children so she decided to take both to the interview during their nap time.
Attorney Benjamin Taylor said his client — who had only odd jobs here and there — was trying to get a full-time job so she could put food on the table for her children.
Her neighbor Stephanie Cordoba said she could empathize with the mother.
Cordoba, who cradled her 2-week-old son Isaac in her arms, lives with her husband at her mother-in-law's house. But she was once a single mother and said she knew how difficult it could be to qualify for child care if you were unemployed and looking for a job.
Cordoba, who also has two young daughters, said she and Taylor had walked to the bus stop together in the past but wished she had known her better.
"If we would have known each other better, I could have helped her watch her children," Cordoba said.
A few houses down, Daniella Flores ushered her three children into her SUV. "I really do have mixed feelings," she said. "A 6-month-old? I don't know — that's bad. A teenager would be OK, but not a 6-month-old. How do you know that's not the first time she's done that? Why didn't she leave them with her family?"
A woman who answered the door at Taylor's last known address declined to talk. Taylor did not want to be interviewed but provided a statement through her attorney.
"Shanesha would like to personally say ... the love, compassion and support of those of you around the world are nothing less than phenomenal. I read all of your cards, emails and letters. They keep my spirits up. And your prayers brighten my darkest days. I read a message the other day that reminded me ... it takes a village to raise a child. Thank you all for being my village."