CHICAGO (CBS)–What started as an ordinary day ended with a frantic search for a 3-year-old girl who was released to the wrong person at school.
It turns out, there are two students named ‘Bella’ at a south suburban preschool.
The school, Crete Monee Early Learning Center, is under fire this week after sending home the wrong Bella with complete strangers who took her home by accident.
The mother of the girl sent home with strangers arrived to pick up her daughter recently, and she was nowhere to be seen.
Mother Samantha Lathus said she’s still shaken up after the situation that transpired at her daughter’s school last Tuesday.
“She’s extremely shy, but I call her my little warrior princess,” Lathus said.
The frantic afternoon began when Lathus arrived to pick up Bella and her 4-year-old brother. Her son met her as usual, but Bella was gone.
“I knew it was not normal for Bella not to come out with her brother,” Lathus said. “When they confirmed it, a part of me was ripped out. I was gasping for air.”
Maria Bajorinas, the kids’ grandmother, said 45 minutes passed and no one knew where she was.
School staff searched the school and couldn’t locate Bella.
Police were soon called to the school, and amid the chaos, a secretary finally figured out what had happened, Lathus said.
“Somebody handed off my granddaughter to a stranger,” she said. “How do you not know you have the wrong Bella?”
Lathus said her daughter bears no resemblance to her classmate with the same name.
The people who picked up the wrong Bella were registered as the child’s emergency contact and had not known what the child looked like, apparently.
School officials have not disclosed the names of the people who picked up the wrong child.
“I don’t even know the people. I don’t know their names, I don’t know nothing,” Lathus said.
The day after the incident, the school addressed the situation in a letter sent to parents, reminding them about the pick-up and drop-off policies. But the letter did not include specific information about what happened to the family.
“They obviously did not follow protocols,” Lathus said. “They did not enforce the rules that day. They know they failed.”
The Department of Children and Family Services says an investigation is underway to determine what went wrong.
School officials say the agency was contacted after the child turned up missing from the school.
Crete police have not responded to a request for comment.