When Suzanne Warmington jokingly offered to cut off the leg of a child who'd hurt her knee at a Colorado Springs daycare center where she worked six years ago, she had no idea what effect it would have on her life and career.
The incident became a major news item all over Colorado and beyond, even getting coverage nationally by CBS News. Today, Warmington's still feeling the negative repercussions — which is why she's now telling her story publicly for the first time.
"I just finally came to terms with not being able to do what I've loved and had done for the past 25 years — which is work with kids," she says. "So I might as well get it out there."
On May 21, 2012, Warmington was employed at Building Blocks Child Care Center in the Springs when a six-year-old girl who was a friend of her daughter fell. "She was upset, but she had no marks on her leg. So I asked, 'What would you like me to do? Cut it off?' And I showed her my keys — and on my key-chain, I had a little two-inch pocketknife."
Neither her daughter nor the girl who'd fallen gave any indication that they thought she was being serious, Warmington stresses. "I had a little bit of a giggle in my speech and a smile on my face. My daughter ran away laughing, and so did the other child."
But according to the police report, accessible below, the situation soon took a dark turn. The ten-year-old daughter of the daycare center's director allegedly told her mom that she'd seen Warmington respond to the crying girl by pulling out a knife and holding it to her leg while threatening to sever it. And Jennifer Catron, another teacher at the center, claimed to have witnessed the same thing.
Warmington adamantly denies doing anything of the sort. Although she acknowledges that she showed the girl the keys, she insists that she never extended the pocketknife's blade or put it anywhere near her leg. Moreover, she says Catron was on the other side of the playground from her when the girl took her tumble and is certain she couldn't possibly have seen or heard what happened.
Nonetheless, officers with the Colorado Springs Police Department were called, and in June, after a full-scale investigation, Warmington was arrested on suspicion of felony menacing, child abuse and reckless endangerment — and suddenly, the story seemed to be everywhere.
In her view, "I was being portrayed as a monster," and that wasn't the only way the tale was embroidered. She says she saw law enforcement documents in which the girl supposedly referred to her knife as a machete.
Although Warmington has no evidence the girl was coached, she finds it hard to believe she came up with the word "machete" on her own. And she points out that in 2013, Catron, the teacher who'd supposedly witnessed her intimidating act, was arrested on charges of second-degree kidnapping and false imprisonment after reportedly refusing to return a child to his mother. "I thought that was karma," she says.
When the matter neared court, Warmington continued to reject any assertions that she'd either opened her pocketknife or brandished the blade in a frightening manner. But in the hope of putting the entire thing behind her, she eventually pleaded guilty to felony menacing.
She was sentenced to four years of supervised probation, which she completed. But she was also ordered to have no contact with any kids other than her own — and for her, that was far worse.
"I'd been working with children since I was a freshman in high school — and I later got a college degree in early childhood education," she recalls. "Then they took away all of my privileges with children, and now I can't even volunteer at my own child's school, and I can't go on any field trips with her class, because I can't be around kids. I can't be left alone in a room with any child except mine."
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With her previous vocation off-limits, Warmington went back to school and earned a degree in automotive technology, "because cars don't fight back if you have a knife," she says. But she's been unable to land a job in the profession for the past four years, because, she allows, "there aren't many places that will hire a woman with a felony record to work under the hood."
As a result, she's currently working as a night manager at a convenience store. And all these years later, she's still trying to wrap her head around what happened to her.
"I owned what I said — because I said it," Warmington emphasizes. "I owned it in all the police reports. I owned it in court. But that's all I did. I just told a joke. And this is what happened."
Click to read the Suzanne Warmington affidavit.