Maricopa PD, DCS investigating after child wandered from daycare

MARICOPA, AZ - The Maricopa Police Department and the Arizona Department of Children Services are now investigating a caregiver who runs a daycare out of her living room.

On Tuesday, Maricopa police got a call from landscapers who said they had seen a little boy wandering around in a neighborhood, holding onto a blanket.

Josh Eason was out working with his crew when he saw the child.

"He was just having an adventure walking along. Every time he saw a car he was like car, truck, car, truck. Just having the time of his life," Eason said.

The landscapers were unable to figure out where the child was from so they contacted police.

Officers started knocking on doors, trying to figure out whom the child belonged to.

In the meantime, less than two blocks away, Steven Ross showed up to pick up his son from an in-home daycare facility run by Olivia Merolli.

"She didn't even know my son was gone. She said I just saw him, where can he be, I know I just saw him," Ross said.

He rushed around the home looking for his child, then around the neighborhood. That's when he saw Maricopa police officers in the area, who led him to his son.

"When I saw my son I was a complete wreck. I was crying, I was happy. I was frustrated, I was angry," Ross said.

ABC15 reached out to Merolli to find out what had happened. She declined our request for an on-camera interview but invited us into her home to observe her daycare.  

Merolli showed us all of the security features she had installed to prevent children from opening doors such as door knock guards, child safety gates, and a lock on her sliding glass door.

Merolli said she had 14 children in her home at the time the boy disappeared.

She expressed remorse and said she had made a mistake and was not going to make excuses for what had happened.

"I would never have thought something like this could ever happen. I've been doing this for 33 years. I have all the securities in place," Merolli said.

She said she realized her home-based business could be shut down because of this.

State records show a licensed daycare running out of Merolli's home, but Merolli told ABC15 she was unlicensed.

Arizona Department of Health confirmed that the daycare is unlicensed. 

Maricopa police said they were conducting a criminal investigation and had notified both the state health department and the Department of Children Services.

Ross said he hoped other parents would learn from their mistakes and vet daycares more thoroughly before leaving their children there.

He added that he wanted to see Merolli face child neglect or endangerment charges.

 

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