The owner of the New York City day care center caring for a 1-year-old boy who died after apparent opioid exposure says she had no idea drugs were in the Bronx facility.
Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were charged with murder with “depraved indifference,” manslaughter, assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and criminal possession of a controlled substance. The charges come after four children became sick, and one later died, from apparent fentanyl exposure Friday at Divino Niño day care.
An attorney for Mendez, Andres Manual Aranda, said Monday, “My client had no knowledge that [drugs] were there. She’s the one that called the police. She called 911 and 311.”
Officials found a 1-kilogram package containing a “white powdery substance” that was identified as fentanyl inside a hallway closet at the day care, the criminal complaint said.
Authorities also recovered two kilogram press devices inside that hallway closet and another inside the bedroom where Brito resided, the complaint said. New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said Friday that such devices are “commonly used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs.”
Brito, the cousin of Mendez’s husband, had been renting a bedroom in the day care for two to three months, Aranda said.
“My client feels terrible for what happened. She feels awful for the children,” Aranda said, noting Mendez “never” noticed other children having symptoms of drug poisoning before.
A plea of not guilty was entered for Mendez and Brito at their arraignment Sunday in Bronx criminal court, and both were remanded without bail.
An attorney for Brito could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.
The New York City Police Department said on Friday officers responded to a 911 call at around 2:45 p.m. and found a 1-year-old boy, a 2-year-old boy and an 8-month-old girl “unconscious and unresponsive” inside the day care.
All three children were administered Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote.
The 1-year-old, Nicholas Dominici, was pronounced dead at a Montefiore Medical Center. His cause and manner of death remain under investigation.
The 2-year-old is listed in critical condition and the 8-month-old in stable condition.
Police said a fourth child, a 2-year-old boy, was taken to BronxCare Health System by his mother after she picked him up from the day care center around 12:15 p.m. that day. The mother noticed he was acting “lethargic and unresponsive” once they returned home. At the hospital, he was also administered Narcan to save his life. He is in stable condition.
The criminal complaint said that the three surviving children suffered from acute opioid intoxication.
It further revealed that a urine sample from the 8-month-old girl revealed the presence of fentanyl. Additional toxicology tests on biological samples from the other children were done and are pending results, the complaint said.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Authorities have not said how the children came into contact with the drug. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that in cases of children opioid-exposure, nearly all cases involved kids who orally ingested the substance, rather than touching or inhaling it, The Associated Press reported.
The FDNY detected no carbon monoxide nor other environmental toxins in the day care and the day care employees present did not experience “symptoms of poisoning or exposure to environmental toxins,” the complaint said.
The home-based day care center had opened in January and passed two routine inspections to secure its license. On Sept. 9, it underwent a surprise inspection by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and no violations were found, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said Friday.
The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) said in a statement: “OCFS’s top priority is the health and safety of all children in child care programs and we are deeply saddened by this tragedy. At Governor Hochul’s direction, we are investigating this horrific incident and we cannot comment further on an active agency and law enforcement investigation.”
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducts inspections for family day cares and school-age child care programs.
Such assessments include background checks on care providers, health and safety inspections of the space, and operators must disclose if there are any other individuals regularly present on the premises. It’s not clear if in the Sept. 9 check whether Brito was disclosed as living in the day care space.
NBC News has reached out to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for comment.
Mendez is due back in court on Sept. 21 and Brito on Sept. 22.