10-Month-Old Boy Dies Choking on a Piece of Pine Cone While at Day Care

Areon Ellington
ABC 11

Police are still investigating the death of a 10-month-old child Wednesday after the boy choked on a pine cone while at day care. Areon Ellington from Raleigh, North Carolina, was at A Hug A Day Daycare for only a few short hours when day care operators called 911 to report the boy was choking. His grandmother is looking for answers as to how her grandson died while in the center's care.

  • Ellington allegedly found the pine cone while he was playing outside.

    Ellington's grandmother, Helena Harris, dropped her grandson off at the day care center on Wednesday morning, but only hours later, about 11 a.m., she received a disturbing call, according to WRAL.

    "The day care lady called me and told me that I needed to get to the day care because Areon was choking on something," she recalled.

    The boy had allegedly found a pine cone while playing in the yard, People continued, and was choking on a piece of it. 

    "This baby had a piece of pine cone in his mouth and it blocked his air passage," a family member told ABC 11, though it is unclear if the boy was being supervised at the time and how long it took for staff to realize that he was choking. Reportedly, in the call to 911, a staff member can be heard telling the dispatcher to "Hurry, hurry, hurry," and help them save the boy from choking.

    By the time emergency services arrived at the day care center, however, it was too late -- the boy had already died.

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  • Police have categorized the death as accidental, but Ellington's family is looking for more answers as to how the boy died.

    The grandmother spoke with WRAL and expressed her devastation at her grandson's death, adding that she's looking for more answers.

    "He was about to have his 1-year-old birthday. My grandbaby is gone -- somebody needs to be responsible for what happened to him," she said.

    "He was my heart, my heart. He was our get up and go," she continued. "He was, through our struggles, what was bonding us together."

    Neighbors said the woman who runs the day care center "is a good woman who runs a good day care,” but family members are unconvinced. 

    Family member Amanda Katrice put a call out on her Facebook profile looking for answers. "Justice will be served I guarantee you that!" she wrote.

    An investigation was launched after the boy's death, and it was revealed that the day care center has had past violations. In January, an inspector made a surprise visit to the day care center and found that it had seven children younger than 2, exceeding the limit of five children allowed. In another violation, a space heater was discovered turned on and placed in an area where children could reach it. (A month later it was reported that the facility had corrected that mistake.) In the past, the day care facility also got noted for failing to conduct a visual check on children every 15 minutes as required by law.

    State licensing records showed that A Hug A Day has received three out of five stars, but since the facility opened in 2003, North Carolina has yet to have to take corrective action against the day care.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services has temporarily suspended the day care's license as it continues to investigate.

    The government group issued the following statement Thursday afternoon, expressing its sadness over the "tragedy."

    "Our hearts go out to the family. The Division of Child Development and Early Education is aware of the fatality at A Hug A Day Care and is considering next steps. By law, we cannot comment on investigations.
    DCDEE makes every effort to provide the information parents need to make the best possible child care choices for their children, and the division provides many online resources specifically for parents looking for child care." 

    The group then encouraged parents to learn more about their day care facility on the Child Care Facility Search site.

    Ellington's grandmother Harris told WRAL that she believes the facility should consider closing. "If you can no longer handle being a day care provider, you need to get out of the business," she said. "She's been in the business for a long time, and like I'm saying, this is negligence. He shouldn't have been outside as hot as it was."

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