HOWELL — The mother charged with leaving her 4-month-old daughter alone in a hot parked car is a teacher in the Lakewood public school system, New Jersey 101.5 has learned.

Karen B. Gruen, 33, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child after two good Samaritans on Monday said they found the screaming baby locked alone in the car parked at the Kohl’s on Route 9.

Incidentally, the two strangers who rescued the Lakewood elementary school educator's baby also are school employees.

The woman who first noticed the baby in distress is a 30-year-old teacher at Red Bank Regional High School while the retired sheriff’s officer who burst through the car window with a sledgehammer is about to start a job as a school security guard.

Steve Eckel is one of two 'Good Smaritans' who broke into a hot car to rescue a 4-month-old baby. (Credit: Facebook)
Steve Eckel is one of two 'Good Smaritans' who broke into a hot car to rescue a 4-month-old baby. (Credit: Facebook)

Endangering the welfare of a child is one of the many convictions that can disqualify applicants for teaching and child-care facility jobs in the state.

Gruen works as a speech therapist at Oak Street Elementary School and earns about $56,000. She’s been a teacher in the state since 2009, public records show.

It was not clear how the criminal case will affect Gruen's employment. Lakewood’s superintendent and business administrator could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Gruen also could not be reached for comment. It was not clear Wednesday whether she had an attorney.

Police said the baby was left in the locked car for about 40 minutes. Temperatures outside were in the 80s. The windows were rolled up and the engine was off.

Witnesses told police “the baby appeared to be in a great deal of distress-screaming, crying, bright red and sweating profusely.”

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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email

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