SOUTH BEND - Parents and teachers are worried suspected sex offenders and possible child abusers might soon be showing up near a downtown South Bend preschool.
They gathered for a meeting, Friday evening, to try and figure out what, if anything, they can do about the situation.
The parents, who packed into a classroom at East Bank Learning Center on Madison St., along the East Race, consider the preschool one of the best places in town to send their kids.
They trust Leslie Kleppe, the school’s owner and director, to take care of their children, but now even she worries about something way beyond her control.
“I'm just surprised they are moving in down here by 800 (St. Joseph High School) students and 100 children here,” she explained to parents.
Groups that investigate cases of abuse, including sexual abuse, will soon move in next door.
Their investigations require them to regularly interview accused abusers. Those interviews would take place just steps from the preschool.
The Family Justice Law Center, the St. Joseph County Special Victims Unit, Adult Protective Services, and the CASIE Center, which deals with child abuse, would eventually occupy the entire building.
“I think the underlying issue is the interviews that we're all concerned about,” said Joe O’Reilly, who sends his three year old son to East Bank Learning Center.
O’Reilly, Kleppe, and dozens of other parents are trying to figure out their next move. They have few options, because the lease is signed and investigators will be moving in over the next few months.
“We love East Bank here and the services they provide, they take wonderful care of our children,” said O’Reilly, “this would make us wonder about the safety here.”
The people in charge of the new abuse investigation center say children are their highest priority, too.
"We currently have twelve law enforcement officers from South Bend, Mishawaka, and St. Joseph County who will be working in this new location. There has never been an incident with our current facilities whereby children or victims have been targeted by suspects being brought into the Special Victims Unit for questioning," wrote Lora Bentley, spokesperson for the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office.
The preschool plans to meet with the county prosecutor on Monday to talk about their concerns.