UPDATE (May 8): The man accused of jumping into a day care playground last Tuesday and grabbing a child by the hand was likely drunk at the time of the incident, Riverhead police said.
Lt. Rick Boden said it appears Gemler Ramos, who was arrested Friday on a criminal trespassing charge, did not understand what he was doing at the time.
“He just stumbled onto the property, somehow got over the fence, but we don’t believe he wanted to abduct a child,” Lt. Boden said. “Based on his mannerisms and his demeanor … it seems like he was intoxicated.”
Police believe Mr. Ramos’ intoxicated condition and a language barrier led to initial reports that he seemed mentally handicapped, Lt. Boden said, adding that Mr. Ramos admitted to police he was on the property but didn’t explain why.
An order of protection has been granted that prevents Mr. Ramos from returning to the day care, police said.
“Hopefully he understands that,” Lt. Boden.
UPDATE (May 3): A 32-year-old Riverhead man has been arrested for trespassing in connection with an incident Tuesday at a Riverhead day care, during which the suspect hopped a fence and grabbed a child’s hand before a teacher scared him off, police said.
Officers located Gemler Ramos about 7:30 a.m. Friday on Railroad Avenue in Riverhead, where he was arrested “without incident,” Riverhead Town police said.
Mr. Ramos lives in a multi-family house at 890 Roanoke Avenue, police said, not far from the Pine Tree Day Nursery at 811 Roanoke Avenue.
He was charged with third-degree criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.
“I don’t know what his intent was, but we hope it was not to do any harm,” said Amber Diangi, an assistant director at the day care.
Police did not say anything about intent in a press release on the arrest issued Friday afternoon, though his misdemeanor trespassing charge would indicate authorities did not find evidence to show he tried to abduct a child.
Barbara Schandel, the teacher who scared the man off, helped officials identify Mr. Ramos.
“I had to go through photos and I picked him out right away,” Ms. Schandel said.
She had worked with investigators on Thursday, describing the man to a sketch artist, she said.
Day care officials said they have received an outpouring of support in the time since Tuesday’s incident, and that attendance was back to normal today.
“It has been overwhelmingly positive,” Ms. Diangi said.
The day care staff has received thank you cards and baked goods from parents as children were being dropped off the past two mornings, she said.
“You feel validated, like what we do here shows,” Ms. Diangi said. “These kids are like family to us.”
Meanwhile, Riverhead ambulance volunteers will be working with the day care to set up a “stranger danger” type course, teaching both caregivers and children what to do if a stranger ever approaches a child, Ms. Diangi said.
“We’re really doing everything we possibly can,” Ms. Diangi said.
Riverhead Martial Arts has also expressed interest in teaching the younger children a safety and self-defense course, Ms. Diangi said.
BY PAUL SQUIRE
A man jumped over a fence into a Riverhead day care playground and touched a child Tuesday afternoon before the man was scared off the property by one of the caretakers, police said.
Barbara Schandel, a teacher at the Pine Tree Day Nursery on Roanoke Avenue, was outside the day care with a class of 3-year-olds at 3:30 p.m. when she began to gather the kids to bring them inside for a snack, Ms. Schandel said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
As she was bringing the kids indoors with another caretaker, she noticed a man walking toward the chain-link fence behind the day care’s playground, which borders the Riverhead Cemetery.
At first she thought the man was a landscaper working with another man mowing grass nearby, she said.
“All of a sudden … I notice this gentleman jumping over the fence,” Ms. Schandel said.
She described the suspect as a black man in his late 20s, about 5-foot-5 with a “chunky” build and wearing khaki pants and a black T-shirt with white lettering on it. He also seemed confused and appeared to be mentally disabled, she said.
He climbed over the fence, Ms. Schandel said, cutting himself on the fence’s sharp edge, and then pushed a kid’s toy car out of the way and kept walking toward the school.
Ms. Schandel rushed over to the intruder and yelled in his face to get out.
“All of a sudden I’m screaming at him, ‘Get out of here. Who are you? We’re going to call the cops,’ ” she said. “My main concern was the kids.”
The man took the hand of one of the children nearby, but Ms. Schandel slapped his hand away. She said the man kept repeating “I’m not a bad man, I’m not bad, I’m not bad.” Riverhead police said the man “offered no resistance” before jumping back over the fence into the cemetery.
The children were all brought indoors and the day care was put on lockdown as caretakers called the police. None of the students were hurt in the incident, though some were scared because Ms. Schandel had yelled at the man to go away.
“They’d never heard me yell like that before,” she said. “It was a horrible experience.”
The landscaper nearby told the caretaker he didn’t know who the intruder was, Ms. Schandel said.
Police arrived at the school and put out a dispatch for the intruder, who was not captured, she said. They also took the toy car the intruder pushed, which had his blood on it, as evidence, she added.
A new stockade fence will be built behind the school this week, Ms. Schandel said.
The day care already has security cameras at the front of the building, but will now install cameras in the rear near the playground, owner Ryan Carr wrote in a letter to parents Wednesday.
“Until this is done, we will not be going on the playground,” he wrote. “We have also contacted various martial arts studios to come in for a stranger danger awareness program … please remember that your child’s health and well-being is of utmost importance.”
A Riverhead police patrol car was stationed in the Riverhead Cemetery near the fence Wednesday afternoon.
According to an initial report on RiverheadLocal.com, Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney warned staff to be on alert. Riverhead High School principal David Wicks also sent a memo to his teachers and faculty to be on the lookout, according to the report.
Both Ms. Carney and Mr. Wicks did not immediately return messages for comment.
Riverhead police Lt. Robert Peeker said he would not call the incident an “apparent child-abduction attempt,” as the initial online report stated. Police have classified the incident as a “suspicious person” report, he said.
“My guys are looking into it, but I don’t know [if] that’s what this is,” Lt. Peeker said. “It wasn’t reported quite as that … it kind of took on a life of its own.”
He also said memos sent out by Riverhead schools may have been inaccurate, adding that there was “a little license taken with the announcement that went out and it wasn’t by us.”
Lt. Peeker said two detectives are investigating the incident to determine whether the man was trying to take a child off the playground. Anyone with information about the incident are asked to call Riverhead police at (631) 727-4500.
All calls will be kept confidential.