A daycare operator and her neighbor have been charged with murder in the death of a 1-year-old boy who had just started at the center and was exposed to opioids there during his first week, police and his family said.
Grei Méndez, 36, who ran Divino Niño in the Bronx, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, a 41-year-old man who lived at the address listed for the daycare, were arrested Saturday night on charges of murder for showing ” depravity”. Indifference” in the face of the death of Nicolás Feliz Dominici.
As of Sunday afternoon, Ms. Mendez and Mr. Acevedo Brito were still awaiting arraignment in Bronx Criminal Court on charges that also included four counts of endangering the welfare of a child, 16 counts of assault and criminal drug possession. In the center, a sign that said “Welcome” remained on the door, and next to the door were some candles, a bouquet of white flowers, and a plastic fire truck.
Nicolas seemed to be adjusting well to the center, a cheerful little place that was affordable and had a good reputation, said his mother, Zoila Dominici, who visited on her son’s first day.
“I didn’t see anything that looked out of the ordinary,” he said. “Just beds and toys.” She said Ms. Mendez seemed to be a responsible woman who played relaxing music for the children to take a nap.
“God gave it to me and now it’s gone,” said Dominici, a 34-year-old senior caregiver who has four grown children. “I have to thank God for the time we spent with him.”
On Friday, emergency medical workers arrived at the six-story brick building in the north Bronx around 2:45 p.m. A neighbor said one of the women who worked at the center ran out screaming that she couldn’t wake the children from their nap.
Emergency workers found Nicholas, who would have turned 2 in November, unconscious. They also found a 2-year-old boy and an 8-month-old girl, both “unconscious and unresponsive,” police said.
All three children showed symptoms of opioid exposure, police said.
They gave it to the little children the overdose reversal drug Narcan and took them away. Another 2-year-old boy, who had left the small downstairs daycare shortly after noon, was taken to a hospital after his mother noticed that unusual lethargy had replaced the boy’s normal energy.
Nicholas was pronounced dead at Montefiore Medical Center on Friday. As of early Saturday, the other three children were in critical or stable condition. After an autopsy on Saturday, the New York City medical examiner’s office said further tests were needed to determine the cause of Nicholas’ death.
Joseph E. Kenny, chief of detectives for the Police Department, said at a news conference Friday that police suspicions about opioid exposure were motivated by the children’s symptoms and the discovery of the so-called pound press. , commonly used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs: in daycare during a search.
The opioid was not identified, but during Friday’s briefing, Mayor Eric Adams and Dr. Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, described the dangers of fentanyl and the ubiquity of the drug.
“This crisis is real and is a real wake-up call for people who have opioids or fentanyl in their homes,” said Mayor Adams.
Fentanyl, a very powerful drug used to treat moderate to severe pain, can be fatal in small doses if swallowed or injected, said Dr. Paul Christo, an associate professor and pain specialist at the University School of Medicine. Johns Hopkins. Two milligrams, the equivalent of 10 grains of salt, are enough to kill an adult who ingests that amount.
But it is “very unlikely” that simply inhaling or touching fentanyl would be fatal for an adult or young child, Dr. Christo said.
Mrs. Dominici found out what happened to her son when she arrived at daycare at 3 p.m. Friday to pick him up, she said Sunday.
He saw police surrounding the building and Mrs. Mendez inside crying, he said.
She then received a call from a program coordinator telling her that Nicholas was in the hospital.
Nicholas was very intelligent, his mother said Sunday. “When she saw that he was sad, she told me: ‘Mommy, what’s wrong with you?’ She would look at you with these eyes as if he understood. It was very special.”
Ms Dominici said her son was a healthy child who had not even had the flu since he was born. His 7-year-old sister and his three older brothers, 13-year-old twins and an 8-year-old boy, doted on him and made sure he never ate anything he shouldn’t eat.
“He was the little prince of the house,” she said. “They took very good care of him.”
Ms. Dominici said her daughter and 8-year-old son were with her when she arrived at the hospital and saw doctors surrounding her son, trying to save him. They cried when it became clear that Nicolás would not survive.
Dominici said she had to call her husband, a golf course groundskeeper, to tell him what happened.
The family is struggling with what comes next, he said. Ms. Dominici described seeing Nicholas’ crib, the new clothes he had not worn and the toys she had been waiting to give him. She said she wondered what she would do with them now.
“I shouldn’t have died like that,” he said.
Christopher Maag contributed with reports.