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Girl, 2, found dead in van outside Delray day care center

A 2-year-old girl was found dead Thursday afternoon after apparently being left in a Delray Beach day-care center van since she was picked up in the morning.

The child, identified by great-aunt Susan Pinckney as Haley Brockington, was found in the rear of a day-care center Ford Econoline van about 4 p.m. at Katie's Kids Learning Center on Southwest 10th Avenue, said Delray Beach police spokesman Jeff Messer.

It is unknown who left her there, but a Katie's Kids employee found the child when preparing to drive the vehicle. She could have been in the van for up to six hours, Messer said.

Thursday's high was 91 degrees at 1:50 p.m., according to the National Weather Service in Miami.

While Haley's parents, Mandus Brockington and Nelda Lester, grieved elsewhere, Pinckney and family friend Paulette Robinson spoke from a church near the day care, St. Paul Missionary Baptist.

"I'm devastated. I can't believe something like this happened," Robinson said. "People go to work and put their kids in daycare centers so their kids can be safe so we have no worries. But it looks like they failed the parents, they failed the community.

"If I was a parent to any one of the kids that go there, I would not bring my kids back to a facility like that."

At Katie's Kids early Thursday evening, day-care workers threaded their way through media crews on scene, refusing to comment. Owners Kathryn Muhammad and Barbara Dilthey, president and vice president respectively of Katie's Kids, were unavailable at the scene for comment and Muhammad refused to comment when reached by phone.

A woman leaving the facility declined to give her name, but said employees at the center were devastated by the incident.

"We are about to go to pieces because that's a child, that's an infant," she said. "It could have been any one of our children."

In addition to Delray Beach police, a representative of the Palm Beach County State Attorney's office was on the scene, Messer said. The state Department of Children & Families sent a Rapid Response Team to join the investigation, said Elisa Cramer, DCF communications director in Palm Beach County.

It was not immediately known how many children attend the day care center, but Messer said it is a licensed facility. The Palm Beach County Health Department licenses day cares, and its website indicates the facility has no violations.

However, the investigation into Thursday's death could change that, department spokesman Tim O'Connor said.

"Potentially it could jeopardize their operating," he said. "I can't say at this point without knowing what exactly occurred and how it occurred and what other violations they may have in conjunction with this incident."

Katie's Kids Learning Center Inc., was formed in 2003, records show, and has locations on Southwest 10th Avenue and Northeast Third Avenue in Delray Beach and Southeast Second Street in Boynton Beach.

Several residents who live near Katie's Kids, located in a residential neighborhood, said they did not know the owners.

Recently Safe Kids Coalition of Palm Beach County started a campaign, "Look Before You Lock," to save children from dying of heat-related causes in vehicles. Its goal is to ingrain behavior that will keep parents and caregivers from forgetting where their kids are.

As of July, Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue had received 249 calls about kids trapped in cars, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Don DeLucia said. In 2009, it received 450 calls.

In the past 10 years in the U.S., about 450 youngsters locked in cars have died from hyperthermia. The average annual number of deaths is 37.

Officials recommended leaving a stuffed animal in the front seat to remind the driver that a youngster is in the back seat, setting an alert on e-mail, placing a phone or bag in the backseat, or setting a cellphone alert.

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