A broken window was boarded up Tuesday at Growing Hearts Child Care Center in Fairfield, after a man attacked a woman inside and then broke the window. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)


Day care employee fends off man, gets children out safely

By From page A3 | January 30, 2013

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 [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbernardinidr.

Danny Bernardini

Danny Bernardini

Danny is a newspaper man born and raised in Vacaville. He attended Chico State University and has written for the Enterprise Record and the Reporter. Covers the City of Fairfield, education and crime. A's, Warriors and Saints fan. Listener of vinyl, frequent visitor to the East Bay. Registered "decline to state" voter. Loves a good steak.

Discussion | 7 comments

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  • Rich GiddensJanuary 30, 2013 - 6:20 pm

    Mary is a hero and should be recognized by local citizens and government for what she did---defend our precious children with her life. Surely this heroic woman should be recognized. Wouldn't it be nice if the County or City presented her with a nice proclamation or resolution honoring her along with a gift certificate for a nice meal or something?

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  • Tom RoachJanuary 30, 2013 - 6:32 pm

    Truly a hero. She made sure the kids were safe and then called police. This guy should be locked away for a long time thanks to a quick acting childcare worker. Thanks to Comcast employee and Fairfield Police.

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  • Kasey LyonsJanuary 31, 2013 - 7:38 pm

    This is a very unfortunate situation. However, I doubt I would thank the police department. Would gratitude still be in order if you knew he was picked up by police 3 times in a 24 hour period before this incident happened. The police had plenty of reasons to detain him, and ultimately condoned his behavior and continued to release him back into the public streets. He is my father. I am deeply saddened by Growing Hearts experience and have contacted & will continue to help the staff any way I can. I have a toddler, and I really am upset that my dad robbed innocent people a sense of safe being--something no child should experience. He is really suffering from undiagnosed mental state, I am following his charges and am praying that he will be charged accordingly to his mental state. By no means am I excusing his horric behavior. I am simply exercising my first admendment right, and stating the specific officers involved with Frank Lyons failed to protect Fairfield.

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  • RayJanuary 31, 2013 - 6:09 pm

    OOPS she let him him? Nothing to laugh at, This could have ended with people dead. It was a mistake anyone of us could have made. But with all the shooting and killings recently, we should be on RED alert and Train your employees. I would pull my kids till you get some training. City should demand and train. Keep our kids safe.

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  • Sue JohnsonJanuary 31, 2013 - 10:29 pm

    I read Ray's comments and I am appalled by them. It was 630 in the morning and the guy was saying that he had kids there. Mary had to make a split second decision. He ended up breaking all the windows. I don't fault her at all. I think she was amazing under pressure. Easy for ray to criticize.

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  • KellyFebruary 18, 2013 - 2:10 pm

    Be fair - she is a hero. It is not fair that she should have to read this second-guessing. Anyone else would have done the same thing - and maybe not have had the foresight to slip out of her sweater before being choked. No one is prepared for this. Thank god everyone got out safely. No one is to blame. She is a hero. No need to Monday-morning quarterback. You weren't there.

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  • LisaFebruary 18, 2013 - 4:08 pm

    I agree with Sue and Kelly. I know Mary and she is a responsible and very smart lady. There is no way to know how any of us would have acted in the same situation. She did nothing wrong and everything right when danger was a reality. We can't live our lives afraid of everyone. There is no training or procedures that will keep all terrible things from happening. If a person really wants to hurt someone or steal something, they will do anything to get it done. I am going to question why the daycare facility leaves an employee alone with children at 6:30 am. That should not be happening, ever.

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