Man had toddler climb into arcade game to steal prizes at mall
A New Hampshire father’s strategy to outsmart a mall arcade game worked: His toddler, once she was stuffed inside, grabbed prizes and passed them outside to the man, video shows.
But the incident — which was captured on video and shared widely online — also got the man arrested, according to Salem police.
Anthony Helsinki, 34, turned himself in to police on Wednesday, the department said.
In hopes of identifying the man, police had posted video showing a man and his toddler stealing from the KeyMaster game at the Mall at Rockingham Park last week. The clip was viewed more than 100,000 times, generating “numerous tips” that pointed to Helsinki as the thief, police said.
Authorities said they got the arrest warrant Wednesday, and Helsinki quickly surrendered with his lawyer.
Helsinki faces charges of endangering the welfare of a child, three counts of theft and two counts of criminal trespassing, police said. He was released after police processed him, and is set to be arraigned on Oct. 29 in Salem, according to police.
Joel Dolan, a Salem police captain, called the situation highly unusual.
“Obviously we’ve had thefts from vending machines,” Dolan said in a phone interview. “This is the first time I’ve seen anyone direct a child inside one.”
Helsinki is a middle school teacher who works for Andover Public Schools, and has been put on leave, WCVB reports.
“Andover Public Schools is fully cooperating with authorities,” an Andover Public Schools spokesperson said in a statement, according to the TV station. “The teacher has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.”
Bystanders spotted Helsinki and another child standing outside the game around 6 p.m. on Sept. 14 as the toddler worked to steal prizes on the inside, police said.
Hannah Forese, an employee at the mall’s Red Robin restaurant, told security what was going on when she heard diners talking about the child inside the KeyMaster game, the Union Leader reported earlier this week.
“Two people came in and I heard them say, ‘That’s so unsafe.’ So I went outside and all I saw was the toddler’s head peeping out of the front of the machine,” Forese said, the Union Leader reported.
Forese also detailed some of what was stolen during the unusual heist.
“There was a Nintendo Switch and a Gameboy DS,” Forese said, according to the newspaper. “They grabbed multiple prizes, but those were the two I saw.”
Dolan confirmed that boxes of those items were stolen, but said the Nintendo Switch box “had been stuffed with just blocks off filling and then there was a way to contact the owner to redeem the actual device.” The DS was worth around $100, Dolan said.
During most of the video, it’s not obvious a toddler is inside the game. All that’s visible is the man and his other child, a slightly older boy, who are standing outside of the game.
When the first prize pops out of the game, the boy on the outside is joyous, video shows.
“Yes, it worked!” the child exclaims.
Soon another prize emerges from the game, and then something is visible moving just behind the dog door-sized flap where prizes drop, video shows.
It’s the little girl.
“Turn around,” the man tells the child, instructing her on how to contort herself to get out of the machine. “Sit up. Turn around. Stick your butt on the floor. Put your back against this.”
Her head pops out of the game, and then she quickly gets to her feet, video shows.
Authorities obscured the children’s faces in the video.