STEWART COUNTY, Tenn. (WZTV) — In FOX 17 News Investigates, a startling discovery in Stewart County. Investigators say a daycare operator gave children super doses of a sleep aid for years.
In a FOX 17 News exclusive interview, a mom and former daycare worker, blows the whistle leading to arrests.
Happy and full of life now. But for two years, mom Candace Short says she couldn't figure out what was wrong with her kids and doctors couldn't either until she went to work at Mimi's Daycare in Indian Mound. “My children attended there for two years,” she explains.
The Stewart County mom says her son and daughter were vomiting and having trouble breathing adding, “My daughter ended up in the ER several times they couldn't diagnose her. They had to give her oxygen.”
Her son wouldn't sleep. Doctors diagnosed him with autism. “He would stay awake until 3 a.m. every day and I have to get up and go to work at 5 a.m.,” explains Short.
She says it’s because her kids were sleeping all day at daycare from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. when caregivers woke them up before pick up time. Sleeping because Stewart County investigators say their investigation shows owner, Jaime Clark, and workers Kristin Clark, Jordan Darnell and Ethan Pulley gave some 26 children super doses of melatonin. It’s a naturally produced sleep hormone in the body that's also sold as a sleep supplement.
RELATED: Four charged for allegedly giving children, infants melatonin at Stewart County daycare
Investigator Lee Miller with the Stewart County Sheriff’s Office says, “From the notes we had received and the interviews we did with the parents we believe it has been going on for several years.”
Short says she quit her pharmacy technician job and started at MiMi's Daycare because she thought her daughter had separation anxiety about going there. She adds, “The second day they handed out gummies on lunch trays. Did not fully comprehend that. I wasn't sure 100% what it was. I did notice the children were laying on the deck. Passing out before even eating their meals. It was like drunken children. I did have to carry them to their cots. They were not able to walk themselves.”
Though all four are charged in the criminal case attorney Rocky McElhaney, owner of the Rocky McElhaney Law Firm is representing nine of the children in a civil case.
“Drugged at daycare. What a headline. Overdose of melatonin is serious. Overdosing of children has serious side effects. They were getting three times the amount recommended for adults. These kids were getting 30 mg before they even eat,” explains McElhaney.
After day two of working at the daycare, Short started gathering what she calls proof via text. In one text she asks what the owner was giving the children and she answered, melatonin. Short then sent her a picture of a children’s brand of melatonin and asked if this is what the owner was looking for. The owner texts back, “No.” In another text she adds, “It’s not kids (brand/dosage,) LOL.”
In another text she writes, “I usually get them from Amazon.” Then indicating it will be a few days before the adult melatonin gummies ship, she texts, “No sleep til Monday. LOL.”
Short didn't find it funny. Neither did the Department of Children and Family Services or investigators. Attorney McElhaney says, “Overdosing innocent children in the name of profit. You don't see that.”
Short adds, “The stomach aches and the issues, it all pieces together the respiratory distress. It's all signs and symptoms of melatonin overdose.”
RELATED: Daycare workers charged: Kids given 10 times legal amount of melatonin
Attorney McElhaney says, “Candace Short is a remarkable tough lady. When she found it out she didn't sit on it. She got on a mountain top and she yelled it out. She yelled it out as many times and days as many times as she had to yell it out until the police came in and put a stop to it.”
Short says her children are doing better and get this, her son may not have autism after all. Short explains, “All of these problems are starting to fade. He's making full sentences. He knows everything and is running around with my 4-year-old and is just advanced if not more.”
She says she feels like she got her son back.
Investigators and parents say there's no way to measure the nutritional, developmental and behavioral loss for these children.
FOX 17 News did reach out to Mimi’s Daycare and did not get a response.
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