BRIDGEWATER — The administrator of a day-care center at Bridgewater State University was suspended Thursday after information surfaced that she did not immediately report allegations of inappropriate behavior by a student worker who is now charged with sexually assaulting two young children at the facility.
For weeks, teachers at the center had found the behavior of that student, Kyle Loughlin, troubling. On one occasion, Loughlin, 21, was seen sitting with a boy on his lap, rubbing his back as he read him a story, a teacher later told police.
The program administrator, Judith Ritacco, advised teachers to watch Loughlin closely and keep him away from the children at nap time, police said. But no one intervened.
Even after a mother voiced concerns last Friday that her son had been molested at the center, Ritacco waited a day before reporting the allegation to authorities, telling a teacher to “keep this confidential,” a police report said. Ritacco informed the state Department of Early Education and Care about the allegations on March 30, said Kathleen Hart, a spokeswoman for the department.
This week, police said that Loughlin admitted that he had molested two boys, 4 and 5 years old. He is being held without bail.
On Thursday night, university president Dana Mohler-Faria said Ritacco “has been placed on administrative leave.” Mohler-Faria made his comments after a meeting with parents at the campus. The program will be closed Friday.
No one answered a knock on the center’s door Thursday, and employees could not be reached for comment. Ritacco could not be reached for comment.
The police report indicating that Loughlin’s interactions with the boys had raised concerns for some time is prompting questions about whether the center should have acted on the apparent warning signs sooner.
At his arraignment Wednesday, Loughlin pleaded not guilty to two counts of rape and three counts of indecent assault and battery on a child. It was not clear whether Loughlin, who was studying early childhood education, had a lawyer.
A university spokeswoman said Loughlin passed a criminal background check before he began working at the university’s Children’s Center. The school did not say how long he had been employed.
The center is licensed to care for 30 children, aged 2 years 9 months to 6 years old. It has a director, six teachers, and 45 student employees. Loughlin told police he worked at the center twice a week for a total of seven hours.
Teachers told police Loughlin had acted strangely around certain children, “zeroing in” on one young boy with unsettling intensity, police said. As the boy played with a dollhouse, a teacher told police, “Kyle just watched him.’’
When interviewed by police Monday, Ritacco said she had received complaints about Loughlin from two teachers. One reported Loughlin “acting strange,” and following a child around, while the second saw him rubbing a reported victim’s leg while the boy sat on his lap.
After the mother’s complaint on March 27, Ritacco told a teacher they were going to handle the matter internally, according to a police report. The teacher, Eileen Estudante, reminded Ritacco that they were legally mandated to report the episode, and Ritacco notified campus police the next day, the report said. Estudante told authorities she knew she should report the episode to the state’s child welfare agency, but worried she would be fired if she went over Ritacco’s head.
Ritacco had previously told a teacher to watch Loughlin closely and keep him away during nap time. But she said “there is no reason to believe Kyle did anything,” police said.
The mother who brought the complaint said she was playing with her son when he asked her to tickle his bottom “like Kyle does it.”
Earlier in the month, teachers saw Loughlin spending a lot of time with a reported victim. One teacher “felt so uncomfortable about it,” that she sent Loughlin to the kitchen to get him away from the boy, police said.
When investigators questioned Loughlin in his dorm room Tuesday, police said, he initially denied touching children inappropriately, but then admitted he abused them.
“Kyle stated that he didn’t start touching children until recently, and it ‘comes from a place of love,’ ” police wrote. He said he started feeling attraction to little boys when he was 17, and that the attraction has since grown stronger.
Loughlin agreed to let police search his room, and they found bins filled with boy’s underwear and diapers. Loughlin allegedly told police his “other personality” would surface and write sexually charged fantasy stories involving children.
Police said Loughlin seemed remorseful and when given an opportunity by police to write a letter of apology to the parents of the two boys, he did so this week.
The EEC had conducted four investigations into the Children’s Center in the past 18 years in response to complaints or allegations of non-compliance with licensing regulations or policies, Hart said. In three of those — in 2011, 2007, and 1997 — the department found the program did not comply with regulations, and those findings were addressed with corrective actions, she said.
The fourth investigation in 1999 did not result in any findings of non-compliance. EEC said it has conducted four on-site licensing visits to the center since 2011 and the license has been in good standing.
On campus, students expressed alarm over the charges. Several said they had met Loughlin in passing, and considered him extremely strange.
Daniel Marques, 19, said his history class was spent discussing the charges. One mother in the class was distraught over the allegations, and other students became too upset to stay.
“You would think this would be a safe place,” he said. “You would think the supervisors would have noticed something.”