The house where an unlicensed daycare was the scene of the death of an 8-month-old boy. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

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Though her child had been going to the unlicensed daycare at Deborah Lundstrom’s home in north Springfield for more than a year, Savannah Banks had only been inside Lundstrom’s house a few times — and never when other children were present. 

When Banks questioned that policy, Banks was told it’s “safety measures that she put in place that she doesn’t allow parents, any parents to come in.”

Lundstrom, 47, was charged Tuesday with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the March 2 death of an 8-month-old boy who police say was in her care. 

According to police, Lundstrom left the home for about 12 minutes, leaving the nine children under the age of 3 unsupervised. Before leaving, Lundstrom allegedly placed the baby in a car seat. When Lundstrom returned, she allegedly discovered the infant was not breathing and called 911.

Banks, who does not know the identity of the baby who died or his parents, said she was horrified to learn that Lundstrom was caring for eight other babies and toddlers — in addition to her 2-year-old son.

“We weren’t allowed to come inside. The brief walk-through that we did at the very beginning was just to kind of give us an idea of what her house looked like, to let us know that it was safe and clean,” Banks said. “And from that point on, she never let anybody inside. She had the baby gate in the front, and she always met us right there at the door.”

In the early days of the pandemic, not allowing parents inside a child-care facility became a fairly common practice, especially at licensed child care providers.  

What happened at the daycare?

Deborah Lundstrom

Lundstrom was operating an unlicensed child-care service out of her residence on the 2800 block of N. Washington Ave., in Springfield. 

The Greene County Medical Examiner’s Office performed an autopsy, and the cause of death is under investigation. 

Lundstrom has been charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter; first-degree endangering the welfare of a child — death of a child; eight counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child creating a substantial risk; and operating a child-care facility without a license. 

“I’m trying to wrap my brain around how she thought that this was okay,” Banks said. “Thinking about my son being unsupervised for that long with that many other children, it’s got my heart racing and anxiety going.

“I quit my job since this. I’m staying home now. And if I do find a job, it’s going to be part time,” Banks continued. “I just can’t put him back into another daycare until he’s talking for sure and able to tell me if there’s something going on.”

Knowing another child died, Banks said she feels guilty for being so thankful her own son is safe.

“I’m so heartbroken for those parents,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine what they’re going through.”

Banks said her son never came home with any injuries or bruises and never seemed hesitant to go to Lundstrom.

“He never cried when I dropped him off,” she said. “He never kicked or screamed or give me any sign. He always went to her with open arms. He was always happy when I picked him up. He was always clean.

“He always had his diaper changed. And I was the type of mom that always kept track of the amount of diapers that I put in every day,” Banks said. “She changed them throughout the day. I’m not trying to stick up for her, but I genuinely thought that she was a good babysitter.”

She never saw other children, and rarely saw the inside of the home

Other than the quick tour of Lundstrom’s home over a year ago when Banks was looking for a provider, Banks said she was only inside one other time — when she stopped by after hours to give Lundstrom a Christmas wreath she had made.

“I made her a Christmas wreath. Like, oh my gosh, I gave her eggs. I have chickens and I gave her free eggs,” Banks said, upset. “I had no idea. This woman was a master manipulator. I had zero clue that she was doing this.”

Banks said she would occasionally drop her child off at the same time another father would be dropping off a child.  But other than that dad, Banks said she never saw other parents dropping off children and therefore had no idea how many children were in the home. 

Banks said Lundstrom’s daughter was sometimes there after the daughter got out of school to help care for the kids. But other than that, Lundstrom didn’t have anyone else to help for the kids, as far as Banks knows. 

Since the child’s death, Banks said she’s made contact with two other mothers who had children in Lundstrom’s home. Those moms also had no idea how many babies and toddlers were in the home, Banks said. 

“We all didn’t show up at the same time so none of us knew,” she said. “I never seen any kids.”

Banks said she started looking for child care about a year ago when she was getting ready to start a new job. She joined a social media group for local parents and child care providers. Banks recalled Lundstrom posted that she had openings in her home daycare and that a few people commented they would recommend Lundstrom. 

By all accounts, the waitlists for licensed child-care spots in Greene County are a year or longer. 

During Bank’s initial tour of Lundstrom’s home, Banks let Lundstrom hold her son. 

“He really took to her,” Banks said. “She was very interactive with him and very calm and had a really good demeanor with him.”

Banks said Lundstrom’s home appeared and smelled very clean.

“My son always came home happy and he was always clean,” she added. 

Banks said Lundstrom charged her $175 per week February-August of 2021. In August, Lundstrom raised it to $200 per week. 

Over time, Banks and her son’s father were becoming concerned that Lundstrom didn’t seem to be providing any sort of educational activities or potty training. They were planning to approach Lundstrom with their concern when the other child died last week. 

“No wonder she couldn’t do any educational training,” Banks said. “She was watching too many children. There’s no way.”

Banks said she hopes other parents learn from this tragedy to “trust their gut. Follow any type of red flags they might see, even the littles ones. Because you just never know anymore.”

If and when Banks decides to put her son back in a child-care operation, she plans to do the occasional drop-in visit and ask if there are video cameras in the home that parents can access throughout the day. 

Lundstrom was arrested by Springfield Police detectives and remains in the Greene County Jail. 

According to online court documents, Lundstrom does not yet have an attorney.

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers public safety, the courts, homelessness, domestic violence and other social issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald