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'I really felt like they were family': 62-year-old staffer arrested for alleged abuse at Grand Rapids childcare facility

The Kent County Prosecutor's Office charged Karen Hornecker last week with 4th degree child abuse
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Posted at 6:24 PM, Jan 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 02:17:57-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A 62-year-old childcare worker is facing criminal charges for an alleged incident that happened at Little Lights Childcare Center back in October.

The Kent County Prosecutor's Office charged Karen Hornecker with one count of 4th-degree child abuse on January 25th. Prosecutor Chris Becker says the charge relates to an incident that is alleged to have happened at the childcare facility on October 8, 2021.

Kaleb Richards is the child who was injured during the alleged incident. His mother, Danielle Richards, has been pushing to find out exactly how her son was injured since it happened.

“I really felt like they were family, like they were my backbone, when it came to my kids," Danielle told FOX 17 Monday.

“I thought I had such connections and bonds with the people in the facility, and that they knew me.”

She put in her trust in Little Lights with good reason— her oldest son had gone there for years.

Both kids have Autism, something the center was previously able to deal with well, according to Danielle.

That is, until she got called to the childcare center on October 8, 2021. They told her that Kaleb had hurt his arm, but didn't know-how.

“So when I go to the center, they have Karen carry him up to the front... and he has an ice pack on his arm,” she explained.

She was given a single-page incident report, filled out by Karen Hornecker.

The report explained the incident, "Children were running in classroom. Kaleb continued to run. Ms. Erielle attempted to have him sit and calm down, he refused. He finally joined the circle and headbutted another child. I separated them and had him sit with me. He started complaining of arm.”

It didn't make sense to Danielle— How exactly had Kaleb been injured?

At first, it was just a gut feeling that something was off with their explanation until she began speaking with a former staffer named Lexie Thomas. Thomas had been let go from the facility in December 2021.

“It wasn't really the first time things had happened with Karen, so I wasn't surprised when I found out that had happened,” Thomas told FOX 17 Monday.

“It was just unbelievable, the amount of complaints, but nothing was being done. It was just like, oh, we'll have a meeting with her, but nothing ever was done at all.”

Eventually, Richards says the ELNC (Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative) got involved and began meeting with her and staffers at the center. The Other Way Ministries operates the Little Lights facility in partnership with the ELNC.

Richards says the ELNC eventually got a look at surveillance video from the day in question, in which it allegedly showed Karen Hornecker physically grabbing the young boy.

She says they told her that Hornecker claimed she had simply forgotten that she had made physical contact with Kaleb.

“Our job is to report. So I am glad that things are finally being done. I really wish it was sooner,” Thomas said.

Both she and Richards are happy to see Hornecker facing legal consequences for her alleged actions, but they believe she isn't the only staff member who bears responsibility for what happened.

“To know that they're allowing one person to go down for actions that all of them contributed to, it's just not OK," Richards explained.

"Everyone needs, you know, their consequences because if not, they're going to possibly do it again.”

Richards says she plans to file a lawsuit against the childcare center in the near future.

FOX 17 reached out to The Other Way Ministries for a response to the allegations and arrest.

While executive director Scott Bloem said Hornecker is no longer employed at Little Lights or Other Way Ministries, he couldn't say much else.

"I can't comment on the alleged incident or Ms. Hornecker's arrest, but I would note that we have been fully cooperating with the authorities looking into the matter, and will continue to do so going forward," he said.

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