A tearful Megan Norris, whose baby died Monday at what may have been an unregulated day care in Fort Worth, said Wednesday that her son was happy the last time she saw him alive — when she handed him over to a caregiver.
Speaking on the courthouse steps in Weatherford, the 21-year-old single mother urged other parents to be cautious about leaving their children with babysitters or in day care.
“Use a licensed day care,” Norris said. “I don’t want what happened to John to happen to another child.”
Through her tears, she described him as the “sweetest.”
“He was sleeping through the night,” Norris said. “I couldn’t have been blessed with a better baby.”
John died by accidental strangulation after his airway was cut off by the safety belt of his child carrier seat, the Tarrant County medical examiner ruled Tuesday. Fort Worth police have said they do not believe foul play was involved.
Norris, accompanied by her mother, Lisa Crow, and attorney Kitty Wise talked about how she raised her only child as a single mother.
“I work in the food industry so I worked late hours,” Norris said “Family and friends were not enough. I had to hire a babysitter.”
Norris said she put an ad out and a woman answered it.
“We interviewed her for an hour and I went to her home,” Norris said. “I didn’t check every room, but I was told John and another little girl would be the only children.”
Norris put her son in the woman’s care in January. A short time later, the woman told Norris that Child Protective Services had placed two other children in her care.
“With CPS doing that, we believed John was with a quality person,” Crow said.
A spokeswoman for CPS said the agency has never placed a child with that caregiver.
Norris took her son to the woman’s house at 4:15 p.m. Monday, took her child car seat inside and lifted the boy out, handing her son to the caregiver.
“He was very happy,” Norris said.
Parents who would like to search for a regulated child care operation or check the inspection history of their daycare can do so at: www.txchildcaresearch.org
Fort Worth police Sgt. Wade Walls told the Star-Telegram on Tuesday that later Monday the child had been placed, asleep in the carrier, inside a walk-in closet of the Fort Worth home in the 600 block of Woodpecker Lane. The closet was not locked as a spokesman had previously indicated, he said. Walls is the supervisor of the crimes against children unit.
“It appears the bottom belt strap was not properly connected and the child slid down the seat,” Walls said. “The infant’s neck was caught between the car carrier chest buckle that was fastened and the child appears to have suffocated.”
The baby was pronounced dead at 10:17 p.m. Monday at the Fort Worth home.
Day care shut down
State officials are investigating whether the caregiver was operating an unpermitted day care. Fort Worth police have said the caregiver was watching 10 to 11 other children at the time of the incident.
“The caregiver did not have a permit and has been instructed to stop caring for any children while the investigation takes place,” Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marissa Gonzales said Wednesday in an email.
She said CPS officials are involved to assess the safety of the children who live in the caregiver’s home. CPS had prior contact with the caregiver’s family, she said.
Officials with Child Care Licensing are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the death and the child care arrangement, Gonzales said in the email.
According to Fort Worth police, the baby had last been seen alive about two hours before being discovered unresponsive.
Fort Worth police have said criminal charges “can’t be ruled out at this time” and that the investigation is continuing.
Authorities cautioned parents of small infants and toddlers to always follow manufacturer’s guidelines in strapping children in car seats and carriers and to never leave children unattended in such seats.
Officials with Child Care Licensing urged parents to seek regulated child care providers for their children. Providers who are regulated have gone through background checks and receive training on child health and safety issues, Gonzales said. They are inspected regularly to make sure they are complying with the minimum standards for child care.
There are nearly 6,400 licensed or registered in-home day cares and more than 9,400 day care centers in Texas.
This report contains information from Star-Telegram archives.