A summer camp is investigating after a 3-year-old boy was found alone on the sidewalk outside the camp after his mother dropped him off.
On June 20, North Carolina mom Stephany Steen drove her son to the children's museum Discovery Place Kids — Huntersville to attend "Superhero Training Academy" for five half-days.
"The week before, he was running around the house like a superhero (in excitement)," Steen, a nurse, told TODAY Parents.
On the first day of camp, Steen and her son arrived early. According to Steen, a staff member opened a gate, showed the pair inside and noted her son's name on a master list. "She said my son could go play in the museum, which was a concern because it was such a large area."
Steen had an uneasy feeling so she decided to stay, introducing herself to more staffers. When her son seemed happy playing with two new friends, Steen decided to leave — but a gut feeling urged her to linger.
The mom said she spoke to a staff member, asking her to get in touch if her son became homesick or upset, then left to run an errand.
On her way home, Steen drove by the camp and saw a police car turning into the building's parking lot.
"It's not abnormal to see police cars in the downtown area but something told me to follow it," she said. When Steen stopped behind the patrol car, she was stunned to see several police officers standing outside — and a firefighter holding her son.
"I jumped out of my car screaming, 'Is he OK? What happened?" recalled Steen. "It was all a blur. My whole body was shaking and my son was screaming 'Mommy!' He had been crying but he was excited to see me."
A spokesperson for Discovery Place Huntersville told TODAY Parents in a statement:
“The safety and care of children in our summer camp program is of the utmost importance. We are taking the situation ... extremely seriously and are conducting a thorough internal investigation. That investigation is still underway, and we have no additional details to share at this time.”
A spokesperson for the Huntersville Police Department told TODAY Parents that a parent found the boy standing on the sidewalk, about 115 feet from the camp parking lot.
Police told TODAY Parents they did not have information about how the boy got outside, however, he may have exited the building through an unlocked door with a push handle.
The incident appears accidental, said the spokesperson. An officer visited the camp last week to discuss general safety, the spokesperson said, and the camp was responsive.
Steen said she has not received an explanation for how her son got to the sidewalk.
"I am left wondering: how did he get out?" she said. "Was the door left open? Did he push it open?"
"Someone had a job that day to specifically watch my kid and they failed," she added. "It's sickening."
Steen said she wants reassurance that the camp will be safer.
"I want safety measures implemented," she said. "That’s my main concern. This should never happen — a child’s safety is the utmost priority."