Eric began working with a special-education teacher, Mindy DeGeer, when he was 2. Her assignment: Teach Eric to talk.
He began in the lowest percentile for his age. She grew to enjoy her time with Eric. He was affectionate, had a bright, easy laugh and wanted to do whatever it took to please her. After weekly hourlong sessions reading and playing with toys, Eric started to speak.
By the time he was nearly 3, Eric could easily say “Mommy.”
It was then, in October 2011, that Knight, the toddler room teacher, asked how he got the new injuries on his body.
“Mommy did it,” Knight recalls Eric saying. “Mommy bite.”
Another day-care teacher, Heather Hopper, ran to tell her boss, McDonald, that she needed to see Eric right away.
McDonald found burst skin with adult-sized upper and lower jaw marks on Eric’s face, bruises from the bites, scratches all over his body, and fingernail imprints on his abdomen, as if somebody was holding him down.
In Minnesota, teachers and day-care providers must report suspected abuse or neglect to child protection. Failure to do so is a crime. “You need to report this,” McDonald said to Hopper.
That day Hopper filled out a “suspected child abuse or neglect form” and sent it less than 2 miles away to the county’s child-protection office.
The county never investigated. It screened out the report and a similar one made by someone else, saying the allegations didn’t meet the criteria in state law to respond, according to county records.
Hopper filed another report two weeks later. This time, Eric had an egg-sized lump on his head with puncture wounds around it that formed into tiny red scabs.
The county declined to investigate that report as well.
Of the 15 abuse reports eventually filed on behalf of Eric, nine would be “screened out,” meaning they were closed without investigation or assessment. That’s consistent with practices statewide, where agencies did not follow up on 71 percent of suspected maltreatment reports, one of the highest rates in the country.
McDonald began to fear that Peltier was going to kill Eric. But she and the other teachers wanted to protect him by keeping him at Kingdom Kids.
“We were smart enough to know that once we started reporting, she would pull him,” McDonald said.
That’s what Peltier did.
DeGeer, the special-ed teacher, continued teaching Eric after he started at a new day care in Colleen Myslicki’s home in Glenwood. DeGeer, too, had seen bite marks on Eric at Kingdom Kids, but assumed another child must have done it.
By January 2012, she saw the bite marks on the boy’s face again at Myslicki’s day care. This time, she knew something was seriously wrong.