Five ex-staff members at a Mississippi daycare have been charged with child abuse after a viral video circulated on social media of them terrorizing frightened children with a scary mask, similar to the one made popular by the Scream franchise of films.
The incident occurred at Lil’ Blessings Child Care and Learning Center in Hamilton, Miss., and came to light after videos surfaced on Facebook on Oct. 5. The footage shows a daycare worker wearing a mask and screaming in the faces of the young children, who are screaming and crying.
The videos prompted an investigation by the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and culminated in charges being laid against five of the former daycare workers on Thursday.
Sierra McCandless, Oci-Anna Kilburn, Jennifer Newman and Shyenne Shelton are facing three counts of felony child abuse each and Traci Hutson faces two misdemeanour charges of failure to report abuse and simple assault against a minor.
Footage from within the daycare shows an unidentified employee wearing a mask similar to that of Ghostface, the main villian of Scream, alongside another unmasked employee. It’s unclear who filmed the video.
At one point, the unmasked employee goes around and identifies which children have been “good” and “bad.” The masked worker leans in close to a crying child who was deemed bad and asks him, “Are you being bad?”
“Do I need to take you outside?” the masked worker yells. She then screams inches from the child’s face and adds, “You better be good.”
All throughout the video, children can be heard wailing in the background.
The workers then move to a different room where children are hiding behind a cabinet. When the masked worker enters, the children scream in terror.
“They’re supposed to be cleaning up, monster,” a worker from behind the camera can be heard saying.
The masked worker yells at the children to “Clean up!” and chases one of the children around the room. She picks him up and brings him back behind the cabinet where the other kids have been hiding and screams in their faces.
“Clean up! Clean up!” the masked worker screams again.
Other videos posted on Facebook show more close-up reactions of the children crying in fear as the masked worker approaches them and screams in their faces.
On Oct. 17, the Monroe Sheriff’s office, the County Prosecuting Attorney, and the District Attorney met with the parents of the children who were involved in the incident and “informed them of the possible criminal charges the law would allow them to pursue,” according to Sheriff Kevin Crook. “Parents were also given an opportunity to share information they had gathered.”
At least one set of parents signed felony child abuse affidavits in court on Wednesday and the following day, a judge issued warrants against five of the daycare workers.
“I was in complete shock of what I witnessed,” said Katelyn Johnson, a mother of a child who attends Lil’ Blessings, in an interview with ABC News. “Whether they had a mask on or a mask off, their behaviour was unacceptable. 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 added. “It is not a joke and it is nothing to laugh at.”
The owner of the daycare, Sheila Sanders, told the Associated Press that she fired the employees involved before charges were laid.
“I wasn’t here at the time and wasn’t aware they were doing that. I don’t condone that and never have,” she said.
Though parents were shocked and angered at the incident, some have stepped forward to support the facility and its owner.
“Was the situation that did happen horrible? Absolutely,” said Kimberly Smith, a parent of a child who was in one of the videos, in an interview with AP. “But should this daycare be shut down and others be villainized that are still here, absolutely not.”
Chas Allen, another parent, told the Monroe Journal that the daycare is a vital resource for Hamilton, an unincorporated community. According to online directory ChildcareCentre.us, Lil’ Blessings is the only daycare in the community.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘Shut it down. Shut it down,’ but I don’t think they’re thinking about the implications that that might have,” Allen said.