PENSACOLA, Fla. -- State authorities have shut down a Pensacola day care after police say a 3-year-old girl died, possibly after being found in one of the center's vans on Friday afternoon.
While the Escambia County Sheriff's Office hasn't yet confirmed the cause of death, a statement from the Florida Department of Children and Families describes the incident as a hot car death. Temperatures ranged between 91 and 93 degrees on Friday in Pensacola in the hours between 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
The child, whose name has not yet been released, was taken by ambulance from In His Arms Christian Academy at 8497 N. Palafox St. to a local hospital around 1:30 p.m., according to the ECSO, and died from her injuries soon after.
ECSO spokesman Maj. Andrew Hobbs said no one had been charged in relation to the death as of Friday evening, but forensics collection and interviews are continuing.
DCF opened an investigation into the day care and ordered an emergency shutdown until further notice.
As the investigation began Friday afternoon, parents arrived at the day care to find the facility surrounded by police lights.
Frantic parents rushed toward the police tape surrounding the entire facility Friday afternoon, trying desperately, many in tears, to make sure their children were safe.
"Everything's OK," a deputy standing at the day care's entrance told one parent.
"Everything is not OK," the woman responded, clearly exasperated as she and dozens of other parents waited to find out which child had died in the center's care.
Parents were kept outside the fence line as they told deputies their child's name, and officials walked inside and escorted their kids out.
Deputies on scene weren't able to give much information to the parents who were arriving. Many cried as officials brought out their children, scooping them up into their arms.
One young girl was walked out, hand-in-hand with a deputy, carrying a pink book bag. Her younger brother followed alongside her as they left, asking what had happened. "Did a kid die?" he asked, seconds before his mom ushered him into their nearby car, warning him not to ask more questions.
One mother wept as a deputy emerged from the building, one of her kids holding a deputy's hand as another, a tired infant, lay against his chest.
"The bottle's still a bit hot, so let it cool first," the deputy told the baby's father as he shuffled the child into his arms.
State Patterson, whose wife's aunt works at the center, was among the people gathered outside.
"The worst thing you can think about is, is it my child," he said. "What if it's my child?"
As parents came and went for the hours leading into the evening, officials from the ECSO and the State Attorney's Office remained on scene, using cameras to document the day care's yard and the inside of a van owned by In His Arms.
That same van later was towed away, followed by an ECSO Crime Scene Unit van.
A woman, wearing an In His Arms Christian Academy shirt, came out of the center as the van was being towed, crying hysterically.
"I'm going to kill myself, I'm not going down for this," she cried as she spoke to people gathered outside the building.
Police escorted her back inside the building soon after, but the woman got in a car and left the scene roughly 20 minutes later.
Police vehicles began leaving the scene around 5:30 p.m., and a deputy took down the crime scene tape surrounding the center soon after.
If authorities determine the child was left in the vehicle as suspected, this would be the second death in Florida this month at a day care center in which a child was left in a vehicle. It would be the fifth fatality in Florida this year involving a child left in a hot vehicle, according to kidsandcars.org, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent child deaths.
The organization reports 34 children have died nationwide in 2017 due to heatstroke in a vehicle. On average, 37 children perish in hot cars every year — one every nine days.
Three-year-old Myles Hill spent the entire day in a van Aug. 7 outside Little Miracles Academy in Orlando before he was found that evening. Detectives believe his death was caused by the heat. Temperatures reached a high of 94-degrees in Orlando on Monday. Temperatures inside a vehicle under the summer sun can rise much higher.
Florida is No. 2 in the country for the number of children dying in hot cars. At least 82 Florida children died in hot cars from 1992-2016.
The day care involved in Friday's fatality will be closed for 90 days or until the investigation is complete, per DCF emergency closure policy. Further action will be determined based on the outcome of the investigation.
"As a parent, I am completely heartbroken by the loss of this child," said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll. "DCF has the highest expectations for childcare providers in our state and news of this tragedy is completely unacceptable. Our agency has opened an investigation and we will close this private childcare facility tonight. We have zero tolerance for carelessness that puts child safety at risk and we will work with law enforcement to hold whoever is responsible fully accountable."
Pensacola News Journal