WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Six toddlers escaped supervision at a North Carolina day care Tuesday afternoon, with five of them making it to busy Peters Creek Parkway.
The incident happened about 3:50 p.m. at Pinedale Christian Day Care, which is affiliated with the church, at 3395 Peters Creek Parkway.
Angie Mullins Herman said she was driving when she spotted a boy in the road.
Herman said she first saw a car that looked like it was broken down so she moved into the center lane.
“A little boy then came running to my car. He looked to be 3. I put my car in park, and I yelled to my fiance, ‘Get him, get him, get him.’”
She said she thought the child came from the vehicle on the side of the road. After getting the boy and going over to the car, however, Herman saw a man from that car, with four other children, who she said looked to be between 2 and 3 years old.
“They were not full verbal,” she said. “One was carrying what looked like a basketball, but it was a Christmas tree ornament.”
A Winston-Salem officer pulled up about that time, Herman said.
Lt. Brian Dobey said the officer was responding to the fight at Parkland High, which is about two miles away from the day care on Brewer Road, when he came upon Herman and the other man on Peters Creek Parkway and stopped to help with the children.
Herman said the three of them walked with the children down the hill to an entrance of the building. She said they found a sixth child trapped between two doors, unable to open them.
They walked inside the lobby area and found a Christmas tree, still upright, but with several ornaments that had been knocked off and shattered, Herman said. They found two church employees who instructed them they weren’t in the day care area and told them how to get to that part of the building. Herman said the three female day care workers were unaware that the children were missing.
“I was dismayed. How do you not know six kids were missing? One had a coat, the other five did not,” Herman said. “And their cheeks were rosy red, their hands were freezing cold. They got all the way up the hill. How could this happen? We could be going to five funerals. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare.”
She said several parents have reached out to thank her. One parent sent her a message, thanking her for saving their child. Herman choked up talking about it.
“I would do the same thing, because my child is my world,” she said. “I’m grateful those kids are alive and will be OK.”
Matthew Sink, the minister of Pinedale Christian Church, offered no excuses for what happened.
“However people felt when they heard about it, we feel the same way. We are all grieved. This was a terrible day,” Sink said. “It was a devastatingly bad thing that happened, and there’s no way to explain it away. It’s a thing that cannot happen.”
Sink said the day care employees were on the playground outside with 20 children. Six of the children slipped into a door of the church without the employees seeing them, went down a hall and left through the front door of the church.
“I don’t know how it happened,” he said. “I’m praising God it’s not a tragedy.”
Sink declined to comment specifically on how the employees were disciplined, but said, “The teachers are no longer in a classroom, nor will they ever be.”
He said the church is also looking at the day care as a whole. It was founded more than 20 years ago.
“It was designed to be a safe haven. That’s why this is so disturbing,” Sink said. “We’re asking a lot of hard questions about it.”
Anthony Brunson, a team support and administrative assistant for the N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education, said Wednesday afternoon that Pinedale Christian Day Care is still an active facility in terms of its license status.
He said that the day care was last inspected on July 26 and received a “superior” rating, getting 229 points out of a possible 235.
The center is licensed to have up to 117 children. State inspectors made two unannounced visits to the center in 2018 and found no major violations.
The center doesn’t have a state star rating, which isn’t required for day-care centers affiliated with churches.
Dobey said no charges have been filed in the incident, but the Forsyth County Department of Social Services was contacted.