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Day care center worker smothers baby to death

July 21,2018
A 59-year-old employee of a day care center is in police custody after surveillance footage showed her smothering an 11-month-old baby to death.

The incident occurred at a day care center in Hwagok-dong, western Seoul, on Wednesday. Officers at the Gangseo Police Precinct arrested the woman surnamed Kim the next day.

An autopsy by the National Forensics Service determined the most probable cause of death was suffocation.

“After looking at the surveillance footage from Wednesday, we confirmed that Kim pressed a blanket down on the baby at around noon,” said an officer investigating the case. When questioned by the police, Kim said that “the child would not sleep during naptime.”

After parents heard news of the child’s death on Thursday morning, they rushed to the center to pick up their children, and by the end of the day, there was no one left.

“I’ll have to coordinate with my wife for a while and take care of my child at home,” one parent said.

One mother rushed out of the center with her two children and large plastic bags filled with their things in tow. “I can’t believe one of my kids was in the same class as the baby who died,” she said.

The day care center used to be a family home before it was renovated in 2009. Eleven teachers took care of 25 children before the incident on Wednesday. According to a government database, the center was “compliant with regulations,” and there were no signs of weapons or any kind of danger in the center. It scored 99 points in the government’s evaluation, higher than the average of 97.62.

“The evaluation itself is reliable,” said Chi Sung-ae, a professor of early childhood education at Chung-Ang University, “but because we can’t watch over these centers every day of the year, incidents like this happen.”

The incident at the day care center came a day after a 4-year-old girl was found dead inside an overheated day care center bus in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi. She had been trapped inside the bus for nearly seven hours.

Cases like these have been making parents anxious. In online forums, moms have been openly considering homeschooling. “Because horrible incidents keep happening at day care centers, I’m reluctant to send my child to one,” wrote the mother of a 20-month-old child at a day care center.

Parents are demanding the government strengthen regulations at day care centers. After a 4-year-old boy nearly suffocated to death on a bus in Gwangju in July 2016, the local education office mandated alarm systems be installed on all city school buses.

One system sets off an alarm if it detects a child left onboard. Another triggers an alarm when a driver turns off the engine. The only way to shut off the alarm is to walk through the entire bus and press a button in the back.

“These safety devices are a means to help protect kids from incidents caused by neglectful teachers and bus drivers,” said Yang Suk-seung, a bus driver in Gwangju. “The most important thing is to make sure these kids come and go from school safely.”

BY KIM JEONG-YEON, YEO YOO-SOO [enational@joongang.co.kr]