Learning center owner speaks out about teacher's kidnapping charges

Learning center owner speaks out about teacher's kidnapping charges
TOPPENISH, Wash. -- KIMA is digging deeper into the preschool instructor accused of kidnapping a teenager Friday. The Toppenish learning center where she worked is now under the microscope.

Esmeralda Contreras is charged with kidnapping a relative and holding him for ransom. Authorities rescued the boy safely.

It was hard to believe a kidnapping for ransom was reported in the Yakima Valley. Even harder to believe a preschool teacher is accused of being the ringleader to the crime.

Esmeralda Contreras worked at Vanessa's Early Learning Center in Toppenish before her arrest.

"Do you still feel it's a safe place for your kid?" KIMA asked.

"I do, it's pretty safe here," said Blanca Soto, who's kid goes to the learning center. "I know the people around here. It's just more of a shock than anything."

Contreras is one of three facing federal kidnapping charges.

Investigators say she helped abduct a boy; demanding $120,000 for his safe return.

Days later we learned Contreras is related to the 14-year-old victim.

Esmeralda Contreras' attorney said her client was devoted to child education. She worked at Vanessa's Early Learning Center for five years.

The facility is not run by the Toppenish School District.

To get all sides, Action News reached out to the owner of the preschool.
She's still in shock.

"Right now I have to pinch myself," said Vanessa's Early Learning Center owner Maria Carriedo. "I can't believe it."

Contreras has never been in trouble with the law before. She's described as a hard worker.

"She helped me and the kids and the families a lot," said Carriedo. "And, I think in my head maybe it's confused. I want to see with my own eyes."

Maria tells KIMA she alerted the Department of Early Learning about Contreras' arrest.

It's protocol for the state to investigate.

Vanessa's has no reported violations but It's reassuring to parents like Blanca.

"I think it's a very good thing so everybody knows what's going on," said Soto.

Contreras remains behind bars. If convicted, she will be stripped of her right to ever teach again.

The learning center's owner said a meeting was planned Thursday evening to talk with parents about the arrest.

Ernesto Martinez and Yaritza Contreras are also charged with kidnapping.

A judge entered not guilty pleas this week on behalf of the suspects.