DETROIT – The home day care center where 3-year-old Stefanie Belue (search) was killed was typical of the kind of place thousands of Michigan parents bring their children every day.
Officials say there were no incidents or serious violations reported at the Detroit residence where Annette Rice, 41, operated a licensed day care facility.
Rice and Sherita Griggs, Rice's 22-year-old niece, were shot and critically wounded in Tuesday's attack. Police said Stefanie was beaten to death and not shot as they had said earlier.
Griggs' 4-month-old son, Amari, suffered a head injury when she dropped him during the attack. Two other children who were in the house were unharmed.
Police were searching Wednesday for the attacker. They said no motive had been determined but that the attack appeared to be targeted.
Attacks on day care centers are rare, but not unheard of in Michigan and around the country. Just this summer, Rob VanBuren was shot to death by Plymouth Township police after he forced his way into a church day care center. No children were hurt.
Jim Sinnamon, director of child day care licensing at the Family Independence Agency (search), said he could not recall any previous attack on an in-home facility.
Indeed, for many people, bringing one's children to somebody's house seems inherently safer than sending them to a big day care center.
"We didn't want a chain day care," said Heather Sherman, who takes her 15-month-old son Joshua to a home center in Oakland County's West Bloomfield Township three times a week. "I think it's safer. It's in somebody's home."
Michigan has 13,863 licensed home day care centers in Michigan, with a total capacity of up to 100,000 children, Sinnamon said.
Of those, 3,695 are classified as "group day care homes" — like Rice's — meaning they can take up to 12 children and have a second care giver in addition to the operator. The rest can handle up to six children.
The FIA is in the process of adopting new rules for licensing such facilities for the first time since 1989. The 1973 law mandating licensing for anybody providing child care services in their home requires that the licensing rules be reviewed every five years, and Sinnamon attributed the delay to his department being transferred from the FIA to a different agency and then back again.
Sharon Claytor Peters, president of Michigan's Children (search), said advocacy groups like hers have been extremely concerned about the delay in the review.
"We've been screaming about it," she said.
Currently, the FIA requires medical screenings and clearances from law enforcement and Children's Protective Services for all adults living in a home before it gives out licenses, but does not conduct background checks for assistant caregivers.
Group home operators also must be trained in first aid and CPR, and homes are inspected for things like smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and emergency plans.
However, there are no educational requirements for home operators like there are for program directors at out-of-home centers. The new rules will likely require training for all care givers, Sinnamon said.
Rice's license was renewed Sept. 13, and an FIA report from a Sept. 1 inspection cited only minor violations, including not enough toys and no records of fire or tornado drills.
Peters noted that stricter rules or better enforcement can't guarantee total security, adding that the real issue is violence in the community.
"Centers and homes — but homes in particular — are parts of communities," she said. "How far can we put our child care in a safety bubble?"
Stefanie's godmother, Andrea Hakeem, said Stefanie's parents did their best to look out for their daughter.
"There can't be a household with a mother and a father raising a child that paid more attention to detail," she said. "She was a beautiful young lady and we were lucky to have her for the three years that we did."