As a general rule, stores send out requests for payment because they know that most people will probably send in the payment out of intimidation when, in reality, if pressed at a civil trial, the stores would be hard pressed to prove an actual loss for the amount of money they are demanding. Stores make profits off of these demands. It is unlikely that they will actually pursue the cases in a civil trial. Personally, I would not pay the demand and that is the advice that criminal defense attorneys give to their clients. You also raise a good point that your child was on reported run away status when this occurred, so I do not believe that a civil jury would hold you responsible anyway.