DENVER — Parents at Catholic Charities Margery Reed Day Nursery are thankful for some quick-thinking staff after a stranger broke into the toddler classroom Tuesday afternoon.
Police said 22-year-old Benjamin Henry Wallace broke into the day care facility at noon and exposed himself after wandering around the yard acting in a strange manner. He was arrested and charged with burglary and exposure.
Margery Reed has been open for almost 100 years at the corner of 28th and Lawrence streets in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood.
Each day the day care facility has dozens of children between 6 weeks and 5 years old.
Children are some of the most vulnerable members of the community, so the facility said safety is its No. 1 priority. The staff routinely practices safety and lockdown drills for a variety of situations.
“You can’t train for this stuff, right? You think it’s never going to happen to you,” Catholic Charities CEO Larry Smith said.
On Tuesday, staff had to put their skills to work.
“I panicked right away,” said Paula Casillas, a mother of a 4-year-old boy who attends the day care. “But they explained to me that the guy was in custody and everything was under control.”
Smith said the man began wandering around the grounds around noon, behaving strangely and staring in windows. He tried to enter the building through the main entrance, but the building was locked. Smith said the man appeared to leave, and that’s when the staff sprung into action.
“Fortunately, the teachers noticed what was going on and when he wandered back into the yard the second time, they went into our emergency shutdown protocol and they moved the children into the safe room that we have in the facility,” Smith said.
If they hadn’t moved to the safe room, children would have still been inside the toddler room when Wallace broke in.
“None of the children were exposed to the intruder, and were safe and secure the entire time the event took place,” Smith said.
Police said the man kicked in a window in the front of the classroom, went inside and tried to enter the main building.
He was unable to because there are locks on the doors leading into the main facility. Wallace exited the classroom through a window in the rear of the building where he was arrested.
Smith and parents agreed the safety protocols worked like they were supposed to during the incident.
“You never want to have to use those emergency protocols but thank god that you have them while something like this does happen,” Smith said. “They really reacted in an amazing fashion, very quickly, very quick on their feet.”
“Those are my babies and if anything were to happen I’d freak out,” mother of two Janet Lafebre said. “So all I can do is thank them. I don’t think there’s enough thank you to them for keeping my daughter safe.”
Neighbors near the day care facility complains about ongoing issues with the homeless population in the neighborhood. There is a mission about a block away. Smith said Catholic Charities will be re-evaluating its safety procedures and measures after the incident.