Mom, 29, felt the bits of guilt most mothers feel when they have to turn over daytime care of their child for the opportunity to provide for their family.

Dad, 41, saw day care as both a necessary evil and an important investment.

So the Omaha couple researched child care centers in Omaha and settled on one they believed was the best fit for their child.

They took their daughter to Little Hands at Work and Play because they wanted more eyes on their child — and the workers — than they might get in an in-home child care.

More than a year after that decision, they received a phone call that all parents fear.

A day care worker they had never met — Mark Mays — molested their 2-year-old daughter while he videotaped the molestation in a bathroom. Two other workers caught him in the act.

“It’s been tough — it’s been real tough,” Mom said Thursday. “You don’t think it’s ever going to happen to you or your kids. And then this happens. It was like we got punched in the face.”

Thursday, the justice system was the one delivering the blows.

Calling Mays a “pedophile and a predator,” Douglas County District Judge Gary Randall sentenced the 25-year-old to 26 to 60 years in prison.

Under state law, Mays must serve 16 years in prison before he is eligible for parole; absent parole, he will serve 33 years before release. The Omaha man had faced a maximum of 100 years of actual prison time. He was convicted of two counts of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of manufacturing child pornography.

Mays had worked at Little Hands at 1714 N. 120th St., and La Petite Academy at 10707 Birch St.

“This wasn’t a one-time thing,” said prosecutor Molly Keane, a deputy Douglas County attorney. “It was at more than one child-care facility. And he subjected more than one child to sexual acts that no child should have to endure.”

Beyond the two 2-year-old girls identified in the charging documents, Keane said authorities don’t know how many others Mays may have abused — in part because Mays’ victims were so young they literally couldn’t form the words to speak up.

“He preyed upon the most vulnerable people in our society,” Keane said. “At 2 years old, the children were unable to report what happened to them, and were unable to understand the significance of what was happening to them.”

The same can’t be said for the parents.

Judge Randall said the victims’ families sent him detailed statements of how the crimes affected them. Both the couple and another victim’s mother were in court Thursday. The latter woman wept throughout the hearing.

“The parents of these children are devastated,” Randall said. “They had the responsibility to protect their children. But they had to go to work to provide for them. And they turned them over to you in the hopes and belief that they would be protected every day.”

Mays did not address the judge. Nor did his attorney, other than to direct the judge to a confidential memo she had prepared.

Randall eyeballed Mays.

“I don’t know how you became this way, Sir, but you are in fact a pedophile and a predator,” the judge said.

Mays’ actions haunt the victim’s parents and could scar the children, he said.

“We can only hope that maybe they won’t remember it,” Randall said. “But we don’t know that.

“It’s this court’s experience that people who are sexually assaulted as children are often some of the most broken people as adults.”

The Omaha couple is determined not to let that happen to their daughter.

Other than some behavior right after Mays was caught, the child hasn’t shown any lingering effects that might be attributable to the abuse, her mother said. Months after it was reported, the couple took their daughter, then 3, to “play therapy” — designed to determine whether the child acted out in any way.

She showed no signs of misbehavior.

Now 4, the girl has a memory so sharp that she can recount trips to the zoo when she was 2 1/2, her mother said.

That said, Mom sees no signs of her daughter re-living the pain.

“I definitely think it was better that she was 2,” her mother said. “But she’s very smart and she remembers things from forever ago.”

The couple, of course, remember everything. The initial phone call. The doctor’s checks. The interviews with police.

In a weird way, the woman said, their awful memories drive them to try to ensure that their daughter doesn’t remember. The woman now works from home — as she watches after her daughter. No more child care. No more chances.

“There’s nothing that’s keeping her from her full potential,” Mom said. “Developmentally, she’s fantastic and perfect.

“I’m just hoping that we fill her with so much good that she won’t remember the bad.”

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Reporter - Courts

Todd Cooper covers courts, lawyers, trials, legal issues, the justice system and government wrongdoing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @CooperonCourts. Phone: 402-444-1275.

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