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Claims of abuse at Twentynine Palms childcare center prompt investigation

Feb. 27, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. (Crystal Chatham / The Desert Sun)
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Military and civilian authorities in California are investigating allegations a daycare center employee at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms repeatedly molested a 3-year-old boy over a period of several months.

Bethany Earl, whose husband is a Navy corpsman stationed at the combat center, says her son was assaulted by a civilian female employee at the Twentynine Palms Child Development Center. She contacted military police in late January and met with base legal counsel, but Earl decided to go public with her story a month later because, she says, officials wouldn’t take seriously or alert other parents about the allegations.

“They said the kids were the most important to them. They said that their care came first,” she said. “... If that was true they would have informed parents about the incidents that happened.”

A Marine spokesman for the combat center, Capt. Justin Smith, said the alleged suspect was placed on administrative leave on Jan. 23, one hour after Earl’s report was filed. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office is investigating the allegations, he said, because the combat center is incorporated into the city of Twentynine Palms.

The issue came to light Feb. 21, when Earl wrote about her allegations on Facebook. The account contained a detailed description of what her toddler had told her, that the daycare worker allegedly touched him while changing his diaper. Within a week, the post was shared more than 4,500 times, often with supportive comments from other mothers.

The combat center’s director of Marine Corps Community Services, the organization responsible for the daycare center, published a letter to parents on its Facebook page the same day.

“We have an established process to respond to this situation — a process that focuses on protecting the child, providing support to the parents, and allowing the investigatory process to occur,” Lt. Col. Steven DeLazaro wrote. “The investigation currently being conducted into the allegations that are the subject of recent Facebook and other social media postings have followed these steps without exception. ... I want to offer my sincerest regrets for the concerns this alleged incident has raised with the quality of care you expect when you entrust your child into our CDC and [Children, Youth, and Teen Program].”

Smith said it is not the base’s practice to notify parents of unsubstantiated allegations.

“There is a reasonable expectation to protect the identities of both the family as well as the employee because this was an allegation,” he said. “To speculate or cause unwarranted stress would be inappropriate at this juncture.”

Earl said she worries other children have been abused at the childcare center in incidents that never became known because of this privacy policy.

“ABUSE THRIVES IN ISOLATION,” she wrote in a Facebook post following her viral open letter. “So my days of silence and living in the shadows are over.”

Smith said the employee was relocated to another MCCS facility on Jan. 27 pending the outcome of the investigation since she had not been charged with a crime. Parents would be notified, he said, when the investigation is complete.

He said there has never been a substantiated incident of child abuse at the Twentynine Palms daycare center.

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