WARNER ROBINS -- Shelia Henderson was operating Sister-n-Sister Family Home Day Care without the required license when police say a 3-year-old boy left in a car died in her care, a state investigation found.
It previously was unclear whether the state required a license for the child care operation. A report on the state’s investigation, released Thursday, also included additional details about the incident, which Henderson’s Warner Robins attorney said was an accident.
Henderson, 50, was charged by police with felony murder, second-degree cruelty to children, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct in the July 31 death of Andrew Leighlan Calloway of Warner Robins. Calloway died from heat stroke after he was left for an hour in a parked locked car at 100 Georgetown Blvd., police said.
The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, the state licensing agency for child care facilities, also launched an investigation into the incident and immediately issued a cease and desist order Aug. 1, according to the findings of the investigation.
Although operating an unlicensed facility is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50 to $200 per day of operation if convicted, Houston County District Attorney George Hartwig said he does not intend to pursue the lesser charges in light of the seriousness of the felony murder and related charges.
The state’s investigation found Henderson started keeping children seven days a week at the end of April. Henderson told state investigators she was trying to finish applying for her license. She said she was told she could operate while in the process of obtaining her license after attending a state registration orientation meeting for family day care homes in March.
Henderson told the state she and her sister, Johnnie Mae Grayer, 66, of Macon, had left for church at 11 a.m. with Calloway and two other children, the investigative findings stated. They all went to lunch afterward and stopped for gas before returning to the Georgetown Boulevard home in which the family home day care was operated.
Henderson, who noted she needed to get inside to use the rest room, told a 10-year-old child in the car to bring Calloway inside as she carried an 18-month-old child, the findings stated.
Henderson used the bathroom, smoked a cigarette and changed clothes before coming out of the master bedroom of the home, the findings stated. Henderson thought Calloway was on a mat under a blanket in a play room. It wasn’t until shortly before 5:30 p.m. when it was nearing time for the father to pick up the child that she realized Calloway was not on the mat but had been left in the car, the findings stated.
Greg Bell, a Warner Robins attorney representing Henderson, said Henderson is devastated about the loss of the child. But what happened, as terrible as it is, Bell said, was a mistake.
Even taking the state’s position at face value, Bell said, there was no intent by Henderson. The felony murder is based on the charge of second-degree cruelty to children, which Bell said requires a “willful or wanton disregard of the probable effect.”
In other words, the crime would have to be so reckless that Henderson would have had to know what would happen, Bell said.
But what actually happened was that as Henderson was carrying in the 18-month-old, she believed her sister was watching over the other children.
“She’s not blaming her sister,” Bell said. “It’s her responsibility ... What we are disputing ... was any intent” of wrongdoing, Bell said.
Bell said what happened was a mistake that could happen to anybody. Henderson believed Calloway was asleep on the mat under the blanket and wishes she checked under the blanket, Bell said.
Hartwig could not be reached for additional comment Friday.
Henderson is free on a $20,000 bond. Her case has not yet gone before a grand jury.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.