FAIRFIELD — A woman fended off a man who hit her in the head several times Tuesday morning at a Fairfield child care center.
Mary Coleman was attacked at 6:30 a.m. at the Growing Hearts Child Care Center, but managed to fight back and escape out the back door with the three children who were in the center at the time.
For someone who was hit a few times in the head by a man who was screaming, broke windows and eventually tried to steal a child’s backpack, Coleman was in a relatively jovial mood by the afternoon. She was seen by a doctor and said she had no injuries, just a bit of a headache.
“What are you going to do? As long as the windows get fixed and the kids are OK, I’ll live,” the Sonoma County resident said by phone. “I was just mad. That’s probably why it didn’t hurt me.”
Coleman said she was more confused than shook up by the incident that started with a man banging on the front window a half hour after the center opened. Coleman said it was odd for someone to come to the front of the business, as children are dropped off in the rear. She said the man claimed to have children in the business, so she unlocked the door to talk to him.
“That obviously was the wrong thing to do,” she said with a laugh. “Then he started hitting me in the head. I said, ‘This is not good.’ ”
As the man hit her, Coleman fought back as he reached for her neck. She said she slipped out of the zip-up pullover she was wearing before screaming to the three children inside to run. She soon realized the man was likely a transient and was definitely a threat.
“I knew he was going to hurt me if I didn’t get out of there. I just slithered out of there,” the 48-year-old said. “I screamed, ‘Run. Just do it. Don’t ask me any questions.’ ”
The three children, each over age 10, all headed for the back exit with Coleman right behind them. Just then, an employee from neighboring Comcast heard the commotion and ushered the four of them into his office.
As Coleman was talking to police on the phone, they asked her to double-check if all the children were out of the building. When she looked back in, she said the man was still inside and had grabbed one of the children’s backpacks.
At some point, the man took a metal lid from a garbage can outside the business and smashed the windows of the center. Coleman credited police with a swift response time and the man was quickly arrested.
Francis Lyon, a local transient, was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, burglary and false imprisonment, said Sgt. Matt Thomas.
Penny Bowers, who owns the business, said she is proud of her employee for getting out safe and protecting the children. Bowers also gave great praise to the Comcast employee and Fairfield police for acting quickly.
“I’m so impressed and proud of her that she was able to do that,” Bowers said. “Nobody knows how they are going to act. I had the right person there.”
Bowers said she talked to management of the shopping complex and was promised more lighting and for security to arrive there earlier in the day.
Coleman said she just did what anyone else would have done by getting the children to safety. She eventually did talk a bit about how things could have been worse.
“You’re just at the mercy of crazy people,” she said. “We’re just lucky he didn’t have a gun.”
Reach Danny Bernardini at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbernardinidr.