Five Mississippi daycare employees now face criminal charges for their alleged roles in a disciplinary incident that involved masks from the Scream movie franchise.
Widely circulated video showed the Oct. 4 incident at Lil’ Blessings Daycare in Hamilton.
The crying of multiple children could be heard throughout the recording.
“Are you being bad?” asked one woman who had donned a “Scream” mask and crouched to position the mask close to a child’s face.
“Do you want me to take you out back?” the woman then screamed at the child.
“You better be good,” the woman then yelled after a loud scream.
The recording then shifted to another room where staffers repeated a similar process. At one point, however, the situation escalated: a staffer in a mask chased a child around the room, grabbed the child, and lifted the child off the floor.
Again, the staffer continued to yell at the children as their screams and cries could incessantly be heard throughout.
Four staffers — Sierra McCandless, 21; Oci-Anna Kilburn, 28; Jennifer Newman, 25; and Shyenne Mills, 28 — have been charged with three counts each of felony child abuse, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department shared on Facebook.
A fifth staffer — Traci Hutson, 44 — has been charged with two misdemeanors: failure to report abuse and simple assault against a minor.
Tupelo, Mississippi NBC affiliate WTVA reported that the owner of the daycare facility was not arrested and was not charged with any crime.
The sheriff’s office’s Facebook post says its officers met with local prosecutors and the parents of the children involved to discuss what the law might allow. The parents were then “given an opportunity to share information they had gathered with Monroe County Investigators.”
Charges were filed on Oct. 18 with the blessing of “at least one set of parents,” and warrants against all five defendants were issued by a judge on Oct. 19. By then, “multiple sets of parents” were on board with the criminal case, the Facebook post indicates.
All five suspects were in custody within two hours of the issuance of the warrants, according to the post.
Bonds for McCandless and Kilburn are set at $20,000 and for Newman and Mills at $15,000.
The cases now go to a grand jury, and the sheriff’s office says the matter “is still open and ongoing.”
“It appears to us they were using the mask for behavior modification,” Monroe County Sheriff Kevin Crook said in comments reported by the Monroe Journal. “They can’t use corporal punishment, so we think they were using the mask to try to scare the kids into doing what they were supposed to be doing.”
Crook reportedly said that “three sets of parents” wanted charges filed in the case and that “some . . . were certain they wanted to file felony charges.”
The only applicable felony was child abuse, the sheriff rationed, “and that dealt with improper supervising of the kids and their neglect and possible substantial mental trauma from what they were going through.”
Crook then noted that Hutson was “not linked to the videos but had knowledge of the incidents and failed to report them,” the newspaper reported.
The paper then added that the child who was picked up in the video was the two-year-old son of a county sheriff’s office administrative assistant. That assistant, Katelyn Johnson, said her son, Pierce, was “doing okay” but was having a hard time sleeping.
“He has reactions to the specific mask that she used, and we’ve had a few nights where it’s hard for him to either go to bed — or he’ll be waking up in the middle of the night — but it’s not anything that positive reinforcement can’t help with,” Johnson reportedly said.
She said she had been told that “positive reinforcement, love, and reassuring” were the best things for her son because a two-year-old would not “understand a regular therapy session or play therapy.”
Johnson reportedly added that she has not determined whether to file charges over the incident because she’s waiting for the investigation to play out.
Johnson and another parent, Alyssa Hayes, both appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to discuss the viral video.
“I want them to see the terror on her face because that is what I see every night,” Hayes reportedly told the national television network.
Johnson also spoke to ABC News, according to its report.
“I was in complete shock of what I witnessed,” Johnson said in part. “My blood pressure was raised. It broke my heart for my child. I was angry.”
“I hope you’re enjoying jail and I hope you realize what you have done is serious,” Johnson reportedly continued. “It is not a joke and it is nothing to laugh at.”
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