Source: CNN

Two suspects have been arrested and charged with murder in connection with the death of a 1-year-old boy after he and three other children were exposed to suspected opioids at a Bronx day care Friday.

Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were arrested Saturday after Nicholas Dominici died and two 2-year-old boys and an 8-month-old girl were exposed to fentanyl and suffered acute opioid intoxication at Divino Niño day care in the Bronx.

They were charged with murder, manslaughter, assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal possession of a controlled substance, court documents show. They were arraigned and remanded without bail Sunday night.

According to court documents, Mendez is the owner and operator of the day care, and Brito is her husband’s cousin and a tenant who resides in a bedroom within the day care.

New York City police were called to the day care around 2:30 p.m. Friday, where they discovered three unconscious children.

First responders administered Narcan, an opioid reversal treatment, to all three children in an attempt to revive them, NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said at a news conference early Saturday.

Two children survived, but 1-year-old Nicholas died at Montefiore Medical Center, the NYPD said in a statement.

Another 2-year-old boy, whose family had taken him home from the day care around 12:15 p.m. ET, was found “acting lethargic and unresponsive” by his mother. He was brought to BronxCare Health System where he was administered Narcan, which Kenny said saved his life. The three survivors are “doing fine” Kenny said at a Monday news conference.

A kilogram of fentanyl was discovered in an area where children napped at the Bronx day care center Friday, the chief of detectives announced. Officials also said they found three kilogram press devices – two inside the hallway closet and one inside Brito’s bedroom.

A kilogram press is “commonly used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs,” Kenny said at the Saturday news conference.

The fentanyl was “laying underneath a mat where children had been sleeping earlier,” Kenny said. The nap area is in a back room of the facility, he added.

“The residue itself, like I said, it’s that strong,” Kenny said. “One grain, two grains of fentanyl can take down a grown man so even the residue itself for a small child, would cause the death.”

Authorities hadn’t received any previous calls or complaints from the community about the location being connected to any drug transactions, he said.

Mendez’s defense attorney, Andres Manuel Aranda, told CNN his client plans to fight the charges.

“We feel that she doesn’t have… anything (to do) with this case besides taking care of the kids,” Aranda said. “She has no previous knowledge of any contraband in the apartment. None whatsoever.”

Mendez “feels horrible about what happened,” her attorney said, adding she was the one who called the police and ambulance.

CNN has reached out to Brito’s attorney for comment.

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the center is a “home-based child care site under the official authority of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.”

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration has prioritized the city’s burgeoning overdose crisis in its mental health plan, Vasan said.

“A small child – not someone we would think would be at risk of interacting with opioids – has come into contact with a powerful substance which can through either inhalation, ingestion or in touching of the skin, intoxicate the recipient,” he said.

Child care inspectors ‘not trained’ to look for fentanyl

The day care was inspected by members of the department less than a week ago and inspectors cited no violations, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said.

“This is a new site that was opened in January of just this year, and had its routine inspections: two, in the beginning in order to get its license, and one surprise visit – that was the September 9 site – and no violations were found,” commissioner Ashwin Vasan said. He added that while it is unclear what took place at the day care Friday, an active investigation is underway.

“I’m very sorry but one of the things my child care inspectors are not trained to do is look for fentanyl,” Vasan said. “Maybe we need to start.”

“But that has not been a part of our thinking for decades, or years, in doing this work and it’s served us well because we keep our babies safe through thousands of these centers,” he continued.

City officials inspect around 6,000 home-based day care centers on behalf of the state, Vasan said.

Fentanyl “doesn’t belong on our streets and it doesn’t belong in our homes,” Vasan said. He described the incident as one of the worst days he’s experienced in his role as commissioner.

An unimaginable ‘nightmare’

“What happened three days ago in the day care center is truly unimaginable,” NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban said. “It’s a nightmare that these families will never wake up from.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams called it “total madness,” but thanked emergency responders for their quick and thorough action.

“Just to think that we have to introduce into the lives of our children Narcan,” Adams said. “You cannot be a parent and not be angry about what happened to those four babies.”

Drug overdose deaths reached a record level in the United States this spring, with new data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing more than 111,000 people died from a drug overdose in the 12-month period ending in April, according to the latest estimates.

Recent research shows opioid-related deaths among children have increased significantly, mirroring trends among adults.

A surge beginning in 2018 led to a nearly threefold increase in deaths among older adolescents and a nearly sixfold increase among children younger than 5.

In 2021, 40 infants and 93 children ages 1 to 4 died from an overdose of the powerful opioid fentanyl. Although deaths among teens are typically related to drug use, deaths among younger children are believed to be related to drugs left within reach.

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