updated 8/31/2007 12:45:21 AM ET 2007-08-31T04:45:21

An 11-month-old boy was fatally beaten at a home day center, and authorities have charged a 9-year-old boy also attending the day care with the death and the center’s owner with putting the child in harm’s way.

Authorities said the older boy repeatedly hit Tahir Francis in the head a week ago, causing skull fractures. Tahir was taken to a hospital and died about six hours later while undergoing surgery.

“I want to know what kind of home the 9-year-old comes from,” father Tafawah Francis told The Associated Press on Thursday. “He doesn’t understand, you can’t do these things to a baby.”

The child was buried on Wednesday, the Francis said.

“Right now, it’s still devastating, and I don’t know when it will not be devastating,” he said. “We’re trying to cope as best we can.”

Owner ordered to close center
Francis said that while he doesn’t blame the center’s owner, Beverly Bryant, 64, for his son’s death, he does think she tried to cover up what happened.

“I found out about the bleeding in my son’s brain, and I asked her what happened and she wouldn’t tell me,” Francis said. “She knew and she tried to cover it up.”

He said Bryant, who operated the licensed day care center out of her basement in Woodbridge in central New Jersey, called him at work to say his son was being rushed to the hospital with head injuries. After that, Francis said, Bryant would say nothing.

Bryant has been charged with endangering the welfare of a child and was ordered to close the center. Her lawyer, Christian Fleming, said she pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

The 9-year-old has been charged with the juvenile equivalent of aggravated manslaughter and has been released on house arrest to his parents.

Bryant’s lawyer said that “things were moving quickly” when she found out about the beating and that “maybe something went wrong with the communication” between her and Francis’ father when she called him.

“She called 911 immediately, she called (Tahir’s) mother, and she called neighbors to help,” Fleming said. “This was a medical emergency that was occurring.”

No signs of violence?
Fleming said that Bryant had watched over the 9-year-old for the past seven years and that he had never shown signs of violence. “From everything I understand, he was just a normal kid,” Fleming said.

Fleming also said his client initially thought the toddler was having a seizure and “didn’t suspect any sort of assault.”

Tafawah Francis said he and his wife started taking Tahir to Bryant’s facility five months ago after researching day care centers in the area. Originally from Jamaica, he and Tahir’s mother lived in New York City before moving to Carteret a few years ago, he said.

“She did take good care of our son,” Tafawah Francis said. “This was the only thing that ever happened that indicated she couldn’t take care of our son, and it was a fatal problem.”

Bryant’s husband, Stanley Bryant, is a case worker in Middlesex County for the state Division of Youth and Family Services. Spokeswoman Kate Bernyk said Bryant has worked for the agency since September 2003.

The state office of the public defender will investigate to avoid a conflict of interest, Bernyk said.

In 2003, also in Woodbridge, a 10-year-old boy was accused of luring a 3-year-old boy from a library and bludgeoning him with a baseball bat. The younger boy died the next day. The 10-year-old pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to up to 18 years in the custody of the state juvenile justice system.

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