Toddler found dead in a van outside daycare

The day care center that operates the transportation van in which a toddler was found dead Thursday briefly opened for business Friday morning. Before 9 a.m., though, parents who had earlier brought youngsters to Katie’s Kids Learning Center were returning for them.

     The facility voluntarily closed Friday and it’s unclear if it will open Monday, said Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department.

     “We do have inspectors going through the facility, reviewing all of their records,” he said.

     O’Connor said the day care has been in compliance with health codes and is licensed for 78 children.

     On Thursday, a 2-year-old girl was left inside one of the center’s vans for hours before anyone noticed.

     By then, it was too late.

     A recently hired driver for Katie’s Kids had picked up the toddler at her home to bring her to the day care center, but the child never made it out of the van, according to Delray Beach police spokesman Jeff Messer.

     A driver found the toddler’s body at 4 p.m. in the back of the 15-passenger van outside the day care center, police said. It was unclear if the driver was the same one who had worked Thursday morning.

     Friday morning, day care center staffers were surrounded by news crews as they opened for business, but said nothing to reporters at the scene.

     Renison Reid, 19, of Boynton Beach, was going to drop off his 4-year-old sister for the day but said employees told him the facility was closed.

     By 9 a.m., employees were seen leaving.

     Alicia Dowdell, 36, of Boynton Beach, was ready to leave her 1-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son at the day care center, but she said she always drops them off herself and would never let anyone else take them.

     Another parent, who arrived with her 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, said she had already found a new day care center for her kids and was stopping by to get paperwork.

     Grey Almonte, 26, of Delray Beach, said she would never let her children return to the center.

     “It’s just really sad and my heart goes out to the family,” Almonte said.

     Police on Thursday night were working with the Palm Beach County state attorney’s office and other agencies to try to determine what happened and whether charges should be filed.

     “I just want to know how this happened,” said Willie Lester, the grandfather of the girl who died, on Thursday. “I don’t care if there were 200 kids in the van. Somebody’s gotta do a head count. … How can you just forget somebody?”

     Nelder Lester, of Delray Beach, collapsed outside the day care after learning of the death of her daughter, Haile Brockington.

     She would have turned 3 in November.

     “She was a quiet kid; that’s probably why they didn’t know she was missing,” said Susan Pinkney, Haile’s great-aunt.

     Other parents raced to the day care center when they learned of the tragic incident, hoping to find their children unharmed.

     “I was so relieved to hear that it wasn’t my 2-year-old,” said Samantha Michel, as she hugged her toddler son. “He’s not coming here anymore.”

     Police said Katie’s Kids is properly licensed. The day care center is owned by Barbara Dilthey and Kathy Muhammad, both of Lake Worth, Fla., according to state records.

     Neither Dilthey nor Muhammad could be reached for comment Thursday.