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      This Salt Lake City Day Care Has Become a Magnet for Conspiracy Theories

      By Eric Peterson

      February 23, 2016

      All photos by the author

      Visit Salt Lake City in February, in inversion season, and you'll hardly see further than 50 yards. The rocky mountain ranges, the dozens of craft breweries, the looming Salt Laky City Temple are all shrouded in gravy-thick smog. But even through the haze, if you wound up at the intersection of 1300 South and 300 East, it's impossible not to see the Fun Time Kidz Day Care, a DayGlo-green building with purple doors and yellow trim around windows blocked with pictures that look like they've been torn out of old coloring books. There's a deserted playground out back which, if it existed in a Silent Hill game, would definitely be a place where a zombie child would lurch out at you.

      Depending on who you ask, Fun Time is either a normal day care (albeit a slightly creepy one) or a cover-up for something insidious. Possibly a CIA black site, a drug front, or an organ harvesting operation. For the people who suspect something sinister, it's become the subject of an enduring mystery: What's going on in this building, and why has nobody seen kids come in or come out?

      The Fun Time Kidz Day Care conspiracy began on January 25, 2015 when user discogodfather6922 posted a photo to Reddit. He wrote that he'd lived nearby for five years, but he'd never having seen any "kidz" having a "fun time" inside. (The original thread, now completely redacted, is preserved on Imgur.)

      Soon, other Salt Lake City locals weighed in. One user had admitted to seeing children inside, despite the cardboard in the windows. Another user claimed to be a letter carrier who had been inside the day care and said it was fully functioning. "The only strange thing is," the user added, "no matter what time of day I showed up with their mail, it always seemed to be nap time." Another user claimed to know someone who broke into the facility out of curiosity and found one room with a "chair facing a TV displaying a live video of another room in the building."

      Later, users claiming to live in the neighborhood chimed in to say the place was just a normal day care, swept up in paranoia from digital sleuths. But their defenses aroused suspicion from other users. "I'm just going to point out that every person in this thread saying this place is legit registered their accounts in the last 15 or so hours," posted a user called Gthing.

      The conspiracy theories reached a fever pitch so quickly that after only a few days, Reddit admins deleted the original thread from r/saltlakecity. At that point, there were already hundreds of posts and users had begun harassing the business and posting personal information about the owner, which the admins said amounted to doxxing. Banning all discussion of the day care, the admins argued, was necessary to stop future "witch hunts" and to "[protect] personal information and the lives of innocent people."

      But that didn't stop the conversation—in fact, it only fueled the suspicion. The original post, on the Salt Lake City subreddit, migrated to r/conspiracy, r/conspiro, and r/subredditdrama. Many users also pushed back on the administrator's decision, arguing they only posted publicly available information and never advocated that people harass the business. Later, the discussion moved to other sites. One 4chan user even posted photos taken through the building's windows.

      On one of the threads, I noticed a familiar username—a Salt Lake City–based writer named Bryan Young, who I know through the alt weekly where I used to work. Young claimed to know the guy who owned the day care. "He's nice and nothing weird is going on there. He bought the day care for his mother and runs it at a loss so she has something to do," he posted. "Nothing nefarious. I've lived in that neighborhood for five years too and have seen people there."

      I asked Young if he could put me in touch with the owner, but he told me that for the sake of his clients and their children, the owner didn't want any publicity. I called the owner anyway and he told the same thing, seemingly exasperated by all the interest in his business.

      Indeed, the Reddit thread spurred a slew of harassing phone calls. One Redditor supposedly called the Salt Lake Tribune asking journalists to investigate the day care's connection to sex trafficking. People even showed up to peer into the windows, which made the place look even creepier. Megan Draper, who owns the hair salon across the street, told me she's seen many curiosity-seekers loitering around the place.

      "They have people looking in the windows trying to see in there, and they look like creepy pedophile stalkers," Draper said. "That doesn't help the business."

      But without the owner's insight, what would explain the creepy stillness of the place? The covered-up windows? The rumors of the chair facing the live video feed? The lack of sightings of children around the building? The refusal of the owner to comment? I decided to go through some public records to see if there was any documented explanation. The property is owned by Chunga International, LLC, and according to Utah Department of Commerce records, there have been two owners since 2012. I checked their names and the company name through state and federal court searches—nothing. The state health department site lists the owner's name as the director of the licensed day care facility, and the only citation against them is a complaint from 2014 for noxious weeds, the kind with thistles that can hurt people, in the outdoor play area. According to records, they resolved that problem within a month.

      The paper trail seemed only to indicate a normal day care business—something neighbors have insisted both online and offline since the Reddit drama started. And while many Redditors said they'd never seen kids visiting the day care, some neighbors and nearby business owners say it operated like any other normal childcare facility—kids and all.

      "It's really sad that people are making up this crazy FBI, bullshit story," said Joanna Black, who lives a few houses north of the facility. Sure, it's an "ugly, sad little building, with sad little windows," she said, but from her observations, it's also one that provides day care services to mostly low-income families.

      Another neighbor, Gregory Dolan, admitted he'd never seen kids go in, but he's pretty sure there's nothing suspicious going on inside. "What you find in a lot of these local legends [is they're started] by an ignorant person who doesn't know what's going on," Dolan said. That said, he conceded the place was "creepy as hell."

      And perhaps that's it—our hunger for the strange, bizarre, and fantastical can outweigh the more boring truth. The conspiracy against Fun Time took a peculiar building and turned it into a larger-than-life legend, much like shadows on a wall appear large and scary, and take on an entirely different shape than the objects they come from. "They have these steel spring playground animals," Dolan said, "and on a winter night, or any night really, when it's desolate, those things take on a creepy vibe."

      Follow Eric Peterson on Twitter.

      Topics: Fun Time Kidz Day Care, Salt Lake City, conspiracy theory, Reddit, amateur sleuths, local business, conspiracy, Vice US, daycare, kids, children

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