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Former Berlin day care worker faces felony assault, child abuse charges

A Berlin daycare worker is facing assault and child abuse charges after an 8-month-old baby was brought to the hospital with a broken leg.

Heather Lynn Ward accused of hitting 8-month-old, other infractions

Heather Lynn Ward

Heather Lynn Ward

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

A Berlin daycare worker is facing assault and child abuse charges after an 8-month-old baby was brought to the hospital with a broken leg. 

While the investigation is ongoing and more charges are likely, on Feb. 20 Berlin resident Heather Lynn Ward, 39, was charged with 14 counts of second-degree assault and one felony count of second-degree child abuse. The charges stem from Ward’s time in an infant classroom at Berlin Activities Depot/Education Station. 

According to charging documents, police launched an investigation in November regarding an 8-month-old female who’d been diagnosed with a broken tibia at Atlantic General Hospital. The child’s mother told investigators she’d been fine prior to attending daycare at Berlin Activities Depot/Education Station Nov. 1. Investigators visited the childcare facility and met with its director as well as the child’s teachers in the “Baby Buzzing Bees” classroom, which according to the Berlin Activities Depot website is for children between 21 and 40 weeks old. Staff told investigators they were unaware of an incident when the child was injured, according to court documents. 

It was at that point, however, that investigators requested video surveillance for any classroom the child had been in on Nov. 1. The video showed several interactions noted in court documents, including several instances when Ward hit the child. According to charging documents, at 9:47 a.m., “Ward hit (the child) with her left hand twice and then used her right hand and struck (the child) five times….”

According to court documents there were interactions with other children on the video that were concerning. When investigators met with administration at Berlin Activities Depot, they asked that Ward be removed from the classroom until the investigation was complete.

“Ward was placed on leave and eventually terminated,” charging documents read. 

On Nov. 14, a doctor determined the child’s injury was an “impact/compression injury” referred to as a buckle fracture.

“He stated a significant amount of force was applied to her heel to cause the injury,” charging documents read.

When police met with Ward and showed her the video in December, “Ward said she never intended to hurt any of the children,” according to charging documents, and she said she did not cause the fracture to the baby’s leg. 

“Ward stated from what she saw in the videos that I showed her, she didn’t believe she broke the ‘kids’ leg,” charging documents read. “She was told by the staff at the Education Station that it didn’t look like she broke her leg.”

At that point, parents of other children in Ward’s classroom on Nov. 1 were shown video of their children’s interactions with Ward, and in mid-January, police obtained video for the Bees classroom from Oct. 1 to Nov. 13. The charging documents go on to identify numerous interactions between Ward and the victim. An incident on Oct. 23 allegedly occurred when Ward was standing next to the victim’s crib.

“(The child) moved in her crib. Ward immediately turned and pushed down on (the child’s) body twice. 12:05:25— (The child) moved again, Ward pushed down on (the child’s) body and then slapped her twice. Ward repositioned (the child) so her head was at the opposite end of the crib. 12:08:16—Ward punched (the child) on the head area two times and slapped her,” according to charging documents. 

Berlin Activities Depot owner/operator Carmella Solito issued a statemen Thursday night, saying, “We are deeply disturbed and horrified by the circumstances involving the recent arrest of a former employee. The accusations profoundly conflict with our core values and longstanding commitment to providing a safe and nurturing environment for all children in our care. We have zero tolerance for any abuse or mistreatment of children. Their safety and well-being are our absolute top priority.”

Solito said, unlike alleged in the charging documents, Ward was immediately discharged once the allegations were learned. Solito said, “Upon learning of the allegations, the employee was immediately removed from the center and terminated. Since then, we have been providing law enforcement with all necessary information and support to ensure a thorough and complete investigation. … I want everyone to know we are devoting our full attention to this matter and are committed to demonstrating through our actions the unwavering commitment to child safety that has always been at the core of Berlin Activities Depot.”

Solito said measures have been implemented at the center while continuing to cooperate with law enforcement’s investigation. An effort to “supplement the cameras we have in place” is underway. She said, “we are installing additional password-protected cameras throughout the facility, allowing parents to remotely view their children and our caregiving practices in real-time. This additional layer of transparency aims to further demonstrate our unwavering commitment to providing a safe and nurturing environment.”

As of Tuesday, Ward was being held without bond following a bail review in Worcester County District Court Feb. 22. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 19 in district court.

William Hall, an attorney in Salisbury, said he’d been retained by the family of one of the victims from Berlin Education Station. He said charges have not yet been filed related to his client’s child but are expected.

“We’re looking for any witnesses or anyone that can help to come forward,” he said. “It’s a serious matter. The allegations are very disturbing but there is video of these assaults.”

This story appears in the Feb. 29, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.