‘You can’t grasp the magnitude of it,’ Parents of Mississippi River communities share outrage over daycare abuse charges

Published 6:13 am Friday, November 12, 2021

Parents say they “want justice” for the families after four workers at a daycare center that serves families in Vidalia, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi,  were arrested and charged with child cruelty.

The investigation into Noah’s Ark Christian Childcare in Vidalia led to the arrests of three employees and the owner in October.

Lysa C. Richardson, 36, owner of Noah’s Ark, has been charged with three counts of cruelty to   a juvenile and has been released a bond that was reduced from $375,000 to $75,000, according to court records.

Bridget K. Delaughter, 34, has been charged with four counts cruelty to a juvenile; Julianne Perales, 27, has been charged with 11 counts of cruelty to a juvenile; and Taylor Ragonesi, 19, has been charged with three counts of cruelty to a juvenile. All three were employed at the daycare. Delaughter is released on a $40,000 bond, Perales on a $110,000 bond and Ragonesi on a $45,000 bond.

The investigation was conducted by the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana State Police. A CPSO release said the department began the investigation after receiving a complaint of a 14-month-old child being struck at the daycare, located at 603 Gregory St. in Vidalia.

Annabelle Wilson, the first parent to report abuse, said she is still struggling to “grasp the magnitude” of what was done to her 1-year-old son while in the care of Noah’s Ark Christian Daycare.

“The daycare director called me to say that he had been hurt and that she was on her way to fire the employee,” Wilson said, explaining how she learned of the incident.

Wilson said she immediately went to check on her son and told the director that she was calling the police. Once there, Wilson said she saw handprint marks on her son’s back and a red mark on his face almost an hour after an employee was recorded by a security camera striking her son repeatedly on the face and back.

“You can’t grasp the magnitude of it in the moment. This was so far out of the realm of my reality. For certainty though, my intuition was telling me that there was no way this started today. And come to find out, more abuse was found to not only my son, but many children,” she said. “This isn’t about me and how I feel, but about all these families that have been affected by this,” she said. “I feel that other children were hurt worse than him. … Other moms said their children are older and are showing signs of trauma.”

According to the CPSO release, investigators obtained security footage from the daycare which reportedly showed an employee “excessively strike the child numerous times,” as well as two other 1-year-old children. Based on this evidence, investigators received a search warrant and seized a DVR hard drive with more surveillance footage stored on it.

Through analyzing this hard drive, investigators found numerous instances of children being struck excessively by daycare workers on different parts of the body including the face, mouth and head, as well as striking the children with wooden paint sticks.

Concordia Parish Sheriff David Hedrick told KNOE that more than 63 incidents of corporal punishment were seen on the camera footage.

“I believe he was traumatized,” George Pirkey said of his nearly 2-year-old son.

“We have begun the healing process. A lot of his behavior is explained now. It’s going to be hard to trust another facility.”

Pirkey said there had been times when they questioned a mark or a bruise on his son and workers would say, “he had been acting out” or playing rough. Pirkey said he remembers thinking this was unusual because his son didn’t behave like that at home.

“There were things that we questioned over the last few months, behaviors and marks and things of that nature. … When we first heard that the daycare was under investigation, we didn’t realize how extreme it would turn out to be.”

Pirkey said he didn’t come to the realization that his son was a victim until investigators called him in to identify his son on the footage.

“Seeing your child get treated that way is heartbreaking, infuriating and sickening,” he said. “That is a facility that we invested our money into because we trusted them to teach and take care of him. He has been there since he was an infant.”

The case is expected to be prosecuted by the office of Brad Burget, Seventh Judicial District Attorney for Catahoula and Concordia Parishes, in the next few months with Judge Kathy Johnson overseeing the court proceedings.

“I want justice for all of these families. Every family. It is devastating,” Wilson said. “It has changed how I trust and view people.”