Several children, between 2 and 3 years old, were unsupervised when they were spotted wandering along a busy North Carolina road Tuesday, police say.
Six toddlers had wandered away from their daycare at Winston-Salem's Pinedale Christian Church, and five of them were near or on a road where the speed limit is 55 mph, WGHP reported.
Two motorists and a police officer stopped along the side of the highway when they saw the children, and safely returned them to the church, according to WXII.
They escorted the toddlers back into the building, after finding the sixth child "trapped between two doors." The three adults working at the daycare did not know the children had been missing, according to one of the motorists, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.
"They could have been abducted. They could have been run over," said Angie Herman, one of the people driving who stopped to help the kids, per WGHP.
She added that none of the toddlers were wearing coats, and described the temperature as "freezing," according to WXII.
The kids were among a class of children on the playground, but the six went back inside the church without being seen, before leaving through the front door of the building, according to a letter church leadership sent to parents and posted on Facebook. There were 20 kids on the playground, WRAL reported.
Police are investigating the incident, according to WFMY.
The teachers supervising the kids "will not be in any classroom," church officials said.
"It is probably, for me and for our leaders, the most devastating thing we have ever experienced," said church minister Matthew Sink, WXII reported. "I have no explanation of what could have happened and I won't excuse it."
In the letter to parents, church officials wrote "thank God a child was not harmed," adding this incident "CANNOT EVER HAPPEN at a daycare."
The daycare's future will be discussed during a Saturday meeting of the church board, according to WGHP.
"We were wrong," Sink said, the TV station reported. "There's no point in trying to sugarcoat that or hide it. We just have to own it and figure out how to go forward from here."
In addition to the police, the department of social services has been contacted, per the Winston-Salem Journal.
"We could be going to five funerals," Herman said according to the newspaper. "It's a parent's worst nightmare."