Woman takes home wrong child from Port Orange day care

'Two hours of pure hell,' 4-year-old girl's mother says of incident

PORT ORANGE, Fla. – What happened to one Port Orange mother last Friday afternoon is every parent’s worst nightmare.

"I was seriously wondering if I was ever going to see my kid again," Holly Smith,32, said.

Smith told News 6 she went to pick up her two daughters from Pathways Early Learning Center when she learned that one daughter had already left.

"I went to find my 4-year-old and she was gone,” Smith said.

Day care employees told Smith that they were told she sent a coworker to pick up her daughter Friday and they spoke to her on the phone to verify that it was OK.

“Well, they didn’t talk to me,” Smith said.

Smith panicked and called 911.

[Listen to the mother's 911 call below]

"It was just almost two hours of pure hell," she said.

To make matters worse, Smith said there wasn't any surveillance video recorded of the person who took her child.

"I was told the cameras weren't functioning,” Smith said. “I lost it, because that would have been the only lead in finding whoever took her."

It wasn't until the day care was near closing when Smith said staff realized what happened.

"There was another child left behind, that we figured (it) out, this other adult took the wrong child," she said.

The woman brought Smith's daughter back to the day care and picked up the right child to take home.

"I was relieved to see her," Smith said.

What happened was ironic, Smith said, because she chose the child care facility based on its security features that include a fingerprint system on a touch screen computer. Caregivers also have to show photo identification before picking up children.

"This is inexcusable,” Smith said. “They have all of these security measures, and it was still allowed for my child to go home with the wrong person.”

Pathways Early Learning Center declined to go on camera but released the following statement:

"On Friday, March 10, 2017, at approximately 5:16 p.m., there was an incorrect pairing of parent and child at school dismissal. The child’s parent had made advanced arrangements to have a friend pick up the child. The friend had never met the child before. When she arrived at the center, she provided proper ID to prove she was the parent’s appointee. Apparently, this appointee retrieved the incorrect child. Immediately upon discovering the inadvertence, the center was able to effect the correct pairings. All children were safe and accounted for within a short time. The center is conducting an investigation as well as cooperating with all governmental agencies regarding the matter. The center is happy that the day ended with all children in their appropriate homes. Pathways Early Learning Center is an excellent child learning facility and an asset to our community. "

 Smith removed her children from the facility and said she just wants parents to be aware.

"We just want the security measures to be thoroughly examined and fixed, so that this never happens," she said. "No parent should ever go through what I had to go through that day."

Port Orange Police said no charges will be filed, but the Florida Department of Children and Families is investigating. The facility could face up to a $500 fine for not following state protocol. The day care has had no violations since it opened in June 2014, according to state records.

About the Author:

Loren Korn is a native Texan who joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2014. She was born and raised in Houston and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Journalism.