DENTON, N.C. -- Elsie Brooks says she just wanted her 3-year-old daughter Ileighanah to take a picture with Santa Claus Tuesday night at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem.
Her mother, Christina Macdonald, and grandmother, Selma Brooks, were at the side of the display, taking pictures when Elsie says things got bad.
"One of Santa's helpers started yelling at my mom, 'You need to get behind the line,' and just really nasty," Elsie said.
Elsie said they tried talking with her.
"We said ‘Ma'am it is Christmas. No reason to talk like that,’" she said.
But Santa's helper kept yelling, according to Elsie.
“‘You need to get behind the line,’” Elsie remembers the helper screaming. “‘You need to get behind the line ma'am. You can't be past that line.’"
Elsie, her mom and grandmother yelled back then walked away and reported what happened to mall security.
Before they left, they took pictures of the company's name and of the worker to file a complaint.
But that's when the women say Santa's helper sprayed them with mace.
"My face was on fire,” said 63-year-old Selma. “Just really bad."
Christina and Selma say they were both sprayed in their faces.
"My eyes somewhat still burn," Selma said.
Winston-Salem police charged the helper accused, Shannon Watkins, with simple assault.
Cherry Hill Photo Enterprises Inc. sent this statement to FOX8:
“Cherry Hill Photo has been proud to facilitate thousands of happy family experiences with Santa for over 56 years. We are currently in the process of investigating the incident that occurred at the Hanes Mall Santa set last evening. The safety and well-being of our guests remain our greatest concern. Our employee involved in this incident has been suspended pending further investigation.”
The family says the incident has put a damper on their holiday cheer.
"Did Santa's elf really just come out after us?” Christina said.