WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Leaders of a Winston-Salem day care say they are “devastatingly embarrassed” after six children were able to slip away from an enclosed playground unnoticed on Tuesday; some making their way into the middle of a busy 55 mph parkway.
“It was disbelief, and it was shock, and then at some point it was complete devastation,” said Matthew Sink, minister at Pinedale Christian Church on Peters Creek Parkway.
Sink says there was a class of 20 children at the playground, who were being monitored by two teachers. Six of the children went through a door, into a church hallway, and made their way to the front doors of the church where they went outside.
From there, five went up a hill and were found alongside – or on – Peters Creek Parkway.
“Here comes a little boy, running down the center lane,” said Angie Herman, who was driving on the parkway with her fiancé.
Herman said they first noticed a car stopped on the side of the road. Thinking it’s where the young boy came from, she approached the driver.
“I was getting ready to give him an earful,” she said. “He was holding four other kids back.”
A Winston-Salem police officer responding to a different call happened to come across the scene. Together, they realized the children had come from Pinedale Christian Church’s day care.
“They could have been abducted,” Herman said, of the children. “They could have been run over.”
When they approached the church, they found a sixth child at the front doors. The child was so young he was unable to figure out how to open the door to get outside.
“We are devastatingly embarrassed, but we’re thankful we’re not talking about a tragedy today because the what ifs on this are heavy,” Sink said, speaking to FOX8 on Wednesday.
Sink added that immediate action was taken with the teachers. Because it was a personnel matter, he was unable to disclose the exact actions, but he did say the teachers would not be with children anymore.
He declined to say if the teachers were fired.
The day care, Sink said, was started 22 years ago as a nonprofit ministry of the church.
“We have a passion for giving children a safe and wholesome place to be during the day and that’s really the reason that this cuts so deep,” he said. “It is the exact opposite of who we are and the reason we started that day care in the first place.”
Sink and other church administrators discussed the incident with the parents of the children Tuesday night. They planned to talk to the parents of the rest of the children at the day care on Wednesday.
“A good number of those parents brought their kids back today,” he said.
The church board plans to meet on Saturday to discuss the future of the day care. Sink says all options are on the table.
“We were wrong,” he said. “There’s no point in trying to sugarcoat that or hide it. We just have to own it and figure out how to go forward from here.”
Winston-Salem police have been notified that both local and state officials responsible for the regulation of day cares have been contacted.
“We’re talking about kids. Precious little lives,” Herman said. “Like I said, I have a son of my own, and if it had been mine, I don’t know what I would have done.”
The day care was most recently inspected by the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education on July 26, 2018. They earned a “superior” classification, with a score of 229 out of 235 points.
Some violations confirmed corrected by letters received from the day care in 2018 include: plastic bags and materials that could be torn apart and toy parts small enough to be swallowed were accessible to children under three years of age, a safe indoor and outdoor environment was not provided to the children, safe pick-up and delivery procedures were not communication not parents and/or posted where they can be seen by the parents, and bed, cribs, cots or mats were not placed at least 18 inches apart or separated by partitions when in use.