School Delays

Florida day care owner speaks out after child found dead in van

The owner of a Florida day care where a child was found dead in a parked van spoke publicly for the first time on Wednesday, tearfully pleading with the child’s family for forgiveness.

Audrey Thornton, the owner of Little Miracles Academy in Orlando, said she cared for 3-year-old Myles Hill from when he was baby until he was found dead in a parked van at one of her facility’s locations on Monday night. Police said Myles was left outside in the hot van for most of the day, when the high in Orlando was around 93 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Weather Underground.

Wearing dark sunglasses and sobbing loudly, Thornton directed her pleas toward members of Myles’ family. “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry for your loss and I don’t want y’all to be upset at me. I loved Myles, I took care of Myles since he was a baby.”

“You know I loved all of my kids at both locations. I took care of all of my kids, I did what I could do to provide for them and teach them everyday,” she added.

An employee, who hasn’t been publicly named, used the van to transport a group of children, including Myles, from one location to the other on Monday. The employee brought the van back to a parking lot at the original location around 9 a.m. and left it there for the rest of the day. It was unclear whether the employee locked the van after using it.

That employee has since been fired, Thornton said.

According to a statement from Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Mike Carroll, the department is “pursuing every legal option available to cease operations … at both of these facilities.”

Robert Nesmith, Thornton’s lawyer, told reporters Wednesday that if DCF does move to shut down the facilities, they will respond as necessary.

Sheri Blanton with the Orange County Medical Examiner’s office said that they are not permitted to release any information due to an active criminal investigation. A spokesperson with the Orlando Police Department said that police did not expect to file any charges or make any arrests on Wednesday, but did not comment on future charges.

Orlando day care has record of violations

An autopsy is being conducted to determine Myles’ cause of death, but Orlando Police Chief John Mina told reporters on Tuesday that it appears to be heat-related.

If so, Myles would be the 32nd child this year to die in a hot car in the United States — and the fifth in Florida, Mina said. An average of 37 children die each year in hot cars, according to safety organization Kids and Cars.

The employee who drove the van that Myles was found in allegedly told police they did not do a headcount of the children when they were dropped off at the second location, and staff did not realize Myles was still in the van. A family member told CNN affiliate News 13 that they called the facility on Monday to ask about uniforms, and Myles’ attendance never came up.

A review of the facility’s recent inspection reports found that Little Miracles Academy was given five licensing violations by DCF for failing to comply with standards over the past two years — standards including personnel records, supervision and transportation.

In June 2015, the DCF found that staff had failed to include a signed Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Requirements form in its personnel records. According to the department, all child care personnel are required by law to report any “suspicions of child abuse, neglect or abandonment.”

In March 2017, the department found that staff were not “within sight and hearing” of the children during nap time, staff members failed to keep a current record of attendance on hand during a fire drill and staff failed to store medications “out of a child’s reach.” In July, the department said the facility’s transportation log failed to include multiple required elements, including destination and arrival times and locations.

The DCF did not respond to inquiries about whether Little Miracles Academy faced any repercussions for failing to meet these standards. Thornton’s lawyer said she could not answer whether any changes were made at the facility after the violations were flagged.

Mina told reporters Tuesday that the DCF is conducting an “operational investigation” of Little Miracles Academy in response to Myles’ death.