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    Local News
    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Firearm found in diaper bag at Niantic daycare center

    East Lyme ― A staff member found a loaded handgun inside an infant’s diaper bag Friday morning at Ballestrini’s Child Care Center in Niantic.

    She secured the loaded Smith & Wesson M&P 9MM handgun in a desk in the office and called the police and the child’s father, according to a police report and the child care center.

    Town police who investigated the incident said it was not criminal in nature. The parents ― one of them a probation officer and the other a correction officer ― have permits to carry a handgun and said there was a mix-up with the bag brought to the center, according to the police report.

    Andrea Ballestrini Rowe, director of Ballestrini’s Child Care Centers, said staff reacted quickly to make sure the children were safe. She said the bag never left possession of the parent or staff member and was locked in the office after being found.

    “At no time was there a threat to the children in our care,” she said in a notification to parents. “Yes, we agree that the gun being in the program was a risk, but at no time was there a threat made against the program.”

    Rowe said the center notified parents of the incident. She said the center would be checking all children’s bags on a daily basis, and the child’s enrollment was suspended. She added that the center also is reviewing its security protocols “and working closely with local authorities to ensure the continued safety of our program.”

    According to the police report, a father dropped off his infant at the child care facility at 161 West Main St. in Niantic a little before 8 a.m. Friday with a pink backpack-style diaper bag. Police said the infant “was not physically capable of accessing the diaper bag.”

    Police said a staff member, who was unpacking the bag, put the bag down and heard a “metallic thump” and thought it was a water bottle. The staff member checked and saw it was actually a firearm in a holster. The staff member then removed the gun and secured it in a desk in the office and called the infant’s father and the police.

    The police officer, William Bergantino, who came to the child care center retrieved the firearm “and made it safe,” according to the report.

    According to the police report, the mother of the child, who uses the bag and owns the firearm, came to the center. Both parents were apologetic and informed the police officer that “there was a mix-up which resulted in the wrong bag being dropped off at day care” with the infant. The firearm is registered to the mother and both parents have valid Connecticut pistol permits.

    She told police the firearm was in a holster, loaded with a round in the chamber, and had the safety on.

    According to the report, the father, who is employed as an adult probation officer, told police that he grabbed what he thought was an empty bag that morning, put the infant’s lunchbox in the bag, took the child to the center, and left for work. He returned to the center once a staff member notified him that a gun had been found in the bag and he called the infant’s mother to ask where her firearm was, and she said it was in the pink bag.

    According to police report, the father detailed safety measures in place at home to ensure firearms are properly stored. Police said the parents were remorseful and said they both would ensure safe storage of firearms in the future.

    According to the report, the mother, who works as a correction officer, told police that due to her recent work schedule she had been asleep when her husband dropped their child off at day care. She said she has been using the bag when she runs errands and placing the firearm in the bag for protection when she is out, as the holster she uses to carry the firearm does not always fit comfortably with certain outfits.

    The mother said she had used the bag the evening before, and her husband unknowingly grabbed the bag with the firearm still inside, the report said.

    Police referred the matter to the Department of Children and Families and did not file charges.

    Jason Fargo, parent of another child in the class, said he was only notified of the incident on Sunday evening. He said he wanted more detailed information from the day care center sooner and went to the police to get a report. He said he is calling for the center to hold a “town hall” style meeting about the incident.

    “My daughter was in there in the same room with a gun that they kept saying was secured,” he said. “But the legal gun owner was not in the room and it was holstered with a live round in the chamber, and it says it in the police report, that the officer had to make it safe and (the staff member) put the bag down and they heard a thud so the gun could have gone off.”

    He said the parents are both state employees, and any other parent would have been charged.

    According to the Office of Early Childhood, state regulations specify that no dangerous weapons or facsimile of a firearm are permitted on the premises of the child day care center or group day care center unless carried by a peace officer.

    But East Lyme Police Chief Michael Finkelstein said there is no state law that makes this a criminal act. He said the police reviewed the incident and also reviewed it with the New London state’s attorney’s office, which agreed no criminal violation occurred based on existing information.

    He said the parents’ professions played no role in the determination. He said both parents are legally allowed to possess firearms and, in this case, the child was so young, that there was no reasonable chance for a child to access the weapon.

    However, Finkelstein said that after new gun violence prevention legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Ned Lamont goes into effect, an incident like this could be looked at differently. Most portions of the newly signed law, which expands the state’s safe gun storage laws among other provisions, will be effective in October.

    Finkelstein added that hopefully this incident is a reminder to people that storing firearms in a bag that could be mixed up and brought to a child’s school is a danger.

    DCF, Office of Early Childcare

    Ken Mysogland, bureau chief of external affairs at the state Department of Children and Families, confirmed a report was received after a weapon was located at the child care center.

    "Information provided indicated that the center immediately responded, safeguarded the young children and contacted the authorities,“ he said in a statement. ”No further action is warranted in relation to the daycare's actions.“

    “The Department is working in collaboration with local law enforcement to investigate the circumstances under which the weapon was brought to the daycare and to ensure the person(s) responsible for the child's care provide a safe environment for this child and any other household members" Mysogland added.

    The Connecticut Office of Early Childcare, which licenses day care centers, issued a statement that the child care center followed proper protocols and no violation was found.

    “OEC investigated this case and found that the operator acted responsibly upon becoming aware of a firearm on the premises, thus no regulatory violations were cited,” the agency said. “Program staff locked up the firearm and immediately called police and followed their policies by notifying parents of the incident per their emergency plans.”

    Rowe said that this is not a situation the Ballestrini child care centers have faced before.

    “I am proud of our team’s prompt and responsive actions to protect the children in our school and we are grateful that all are safe,” she said. “The safety of the children is our number one concern, it is important that families continue to feel safe.”


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