Correct me if I am wrong let’s assume the mother was “playing” with her child. Don’t you have to insert money first BEFORE the washer turns on? This fact in self seems to imply there was more of a malicious intent to her actions.
I have had laundromat washers and dryers turn on without having to put money in them. I don't know whether somebody else had put money in (either by the last person to use it overpaying, or somebody putting money in several washers and then not using one - I've also seen that happen) or whether the machine itself was messing up. My uncle was a repair person and said that he has known people who knew how to do it, make laundromat equipment run without requiring money (I think it involves messing with the control panel or the controls on the back of the machine).
There are many, many facts that are not obvious from the news stories. Was she playing 'hide-and-go-seek' and made a horrible mistake? Was she at her wit's end with a toddler running around and screaming in a laundromat full of strangers, and tried to put her in a washer to keep her from running out the door and playing in traffic or getting snatched by a stranger while mom loaded the washer or moved stuff to the dryer (I hate going to the laundromat - I can only imagine going with a 2 year old)? Was she an abusive parent who finally got caught?
There's no way to tell. We are not given enough information by the article. Obviously she made a huge mistake. How many of us can say we have never done anything dumb in our lives that could not have, under the right circumstances, have had catastrophic consequences? If she is indeed an abusive parent, I'll be at the front of the mob with the torch. I just can't make a determination without more facts.