Five employees of a Mississippi day care have been charged with felony child abuse for a now viral incident involving a room full of toddlers, a scary mask, and an employee intentionally trying to frighten the children.
In early October, deeply upsetting videos taken at Lil’ Blessings Child Care and Learning Center (the irony is not lost on us) went viral in a now-deleted Facebook post. A day care worker in a room of what appear to be toddlers roams the room in a mask reminiscent of the one worn by the killer in the slasher classic Scream.
Throughout the approximately three minutes of video (which is absolutely not for the feint of heart), the children can be seen (and heard) screaming and crying in reaction to the masked employee who, at times, screams in their faces, grabs them, touches them, and chases them. Some hide their eyes and cover their ears. Some attempt to hide. At one point, another worker announces her arrival as she enters the room of crying children wearing the mask, at which point the un-masked employee informs her of which children have been “good” and should be left alone and which haven’t behaved. Crouching down in front of one crying child, the masked employee asks, in a shrill voice, “Are you being bad? Do I need to take you outside?” She then screams loudly, inches from his face before telling him “You’d better be good!” At certain points in the video, employees off-screen can be heard laughing at the terrified reactions of the toddlers. The videos apparently show two incidents, taken days apart.
The day care owner Sheila Sanders fired the employees involved when she became aware of the two incidents, according to reporting from the Monroe Journal. In response, the woman who can be seen wearing the mask, identified only as “CeeCee” posted another now-deleted video on Facebook attempting to apologize and clear her name, which was reported by the Daily Mail. “It wasn't meant to harm anybody and it wasn't ill-intentioned,” CeeCee said tearfully. “The teachers asked me if I would do it or if they could use [the mask] to get their class to listen or clean up ... I'm not a child abuser.”
Another employee, Jennifer Newman, who admitted to filming the incident, said on Facebook that her doing so was not callous, but an attempt to point out wrongdoing. “A couple of weeks ago some girls at the daycare bought Halloween masks to scare the kids, they did it and I never got it on video. The kids were terrified but I knew if I told the owner, it would be a slap on the wrist for them as I've complained about other things in the past and nothing ever got done,” she wrote. “So, when I heard she was going to do it again, I recorded to get the proof ... I did not video this for sh*ts and giggles. It was not funny to me. I did not get amusement out of this. ... MAYBE, I didn't handle it 100 percent how I should have, but my intentions were good.”
“If it wasn't for me and another coworker,” she concluded in the Oct. 6 post, “this probably would have happened tomorrow also.”
Earlier this week, after an investigation by the Mississippi Department of Health and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Newman, along with employees Sierra McCandless, Oci-Anna Kilburn, and Shyenne Shelton, were each charged with three counts of felony child abuse. A fifth employee has been charged with two misdemeanors: failure to report the incident and simple assault against a minor.
Jesse Reeves, whose 3-year-old was “traumatized” by the incident, told Inside Edition that she’s satisfied that charges were brought against the employees. “I think they deserve every bit of it,” she declared, noting her daughter continues to draw pictures of the “monster.” She alleges the child now suffers night terrors.
Despite the disturbing incident, some parents are defending the day care and even the employees involved. In an apparently now-deleted Facebook post, Hamilton mom Ashley Wood, whose son attends the school, said that “CeeCee” is “truly sorry” and that others shouldn’t judge. Kimberly Smith defended Sanders as taking appropriate action when she became aware of the situation. “Am I okay with what happened to the extent of what happened? Absolutely not,” she told the Monroe Journal, “but I know [Sanders] took care of it, and my babies are safe here.”
Another mother, however, like Reeves, is pleased with the felony and misdemeanor charges. “I was in complete shock of what I witnessed,” Katelyn Johnson, told ABC News. “Whether they had a mask on or a mask off, their behavior was unacceptable. My blood pressure was raised. It broke my heart for my child. I was angry.”
“I hope you're enjoying jail,” she said in a tone somewhere between blithe and weary, “and I hope you realize what you have done is serious. It is not a joke and it is nothing to laugh at.”