Head Start Staffers Honored After Attempted Kidnapping
Members of the community gathered earlier this week to show their appreciation for the staff of Southern Pines Head Start, who earned praise from police recently for their quick, calm response to a man who attempted to remove two children from the business.
Cari Williams, a former Head Start teacher who now owns her own business in Pinehurst, organized a luncheon for the 10 staff members at the facility at 1400 W. Indiana Ave.
"I wanted to let them know someone in the community appreciates them," said Williams, who owns The Eyes Have It, in Pinehurst.
So she cooked a meal and solicited donations of gifts from several local businesses to recognize the employees at Head Start.
"I felt like it was something I had to do, and the businesses I went to were great," Williams said. "It is not easy in this economy to give things away, but everyone really stepped up."
According to police, on Feb. 7, a man entered the Head Start building, produced identification and indicated he was there to remove two children. Police responded to the business for a report of a suspicious person.
An investigation determined that there was no relationship between the suspect and the children he had asked to remove from class.
Damitri Johan Vamper, 20, was located near the Southern Pines Head Start building and arrested without incident. For a brief time, the Southern Pines Head Start was placed on a lockdown until the investigation and arrest.
Police charged Vamper with two counts of felony attempted kidnapping and possession of marijuana. He was placed in jail on $150,000 secured bond pending a court hearing.
Veleda McCormick, director of the Head Start center, said she didn't view her actions or the actions of her staff as anything more than doing their jobs.
"We have training every year so we will know what to do in those types of situations," McCormick said. "There was an instant where I wanted to panic, but then my instinct and training took over, and I knew I couldn't panic. I had to take care of my babies."
Head Start is a federal program that provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to children and their families. The Southern Pines facility serves 49 preschool children and their families.
McCormick said the home-cooked lasagna, salad and homemade bread made the staff feel humbled and appreciated.
"Sometimes we feel like we do so much and it goes unnoticed, but we are honored that someone would do something like this for us," McCormick said. "It was so incredibly nice of her. I don't have enough words to express our gratitude "
The local businesses who contributed to the luncheon are Whispering Woods Golf Club, Mt. Fuji, Texas Roadhouse, Applebees, Chili's, Sweet Basil, Lowes Food in Pinehurst, Tripps restaurant, Full Moon Oyster Bar, FirstHealth of the Carolinas, Hickory Tavern, Firefly, Olive Garden, Southern Pines Outback Steakhouse, Bell Tree and Rita's of Aberdeen.
Nearly two weeks after the incident, Williams said she is still awed by the actions of McCormick and the staff.
"The strength that she (McCormick) had to stand her ground, that amazes me," Williams said. "I felt honored to serve them because they serve our community in such a great way."
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or tembrey @thepilot.com.
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