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Fentanyl found near nap mats at daycare where boy died, police say


A kilogram of fentanyl was found near the mats children used to nap at a Bronx daycare where a toddler died and three other children were hospitalized last week, police said Monday evening.

Chief Joseph Kenny, the police department’s chief of detectives, explained how close the powerful narcotic was to the children: “It was placed under a rug where the children were sleeping earlier,” he said during a press conference, where he joined the mayor. Eric Adams and other city officials.

The disturbing revelation came as Mr. Adams and the city’s health commissioner defended the administration’s oversight of the day care program, one of thousands of such operations in New York that are licensed to operate from people’s homes.

City inspectors, who examine homes on behalf of the state, made a “surprise” visit to the daycare where the boy died, Divino Niño on Morris Avenue, on September 6. a 40-point checklist and noted that “all medications and toxic substances” were “used and stored so that no hazards are created” and that “toxic, flammable and dangerous items are inaccessible to children “.

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, health commissioner, said at the news conference that inspectors followed their usual routine to ensure there was no risk to children in the apartment housing the program.

The search for a powerful synthetic opioid was not their usual practice, he said.

“I’m really sorry, but one of the things my daycare inspectors are not trained to do is look for fentanyl,” Dr. Vasan said. “But maybe we need to start.”

Mr Adams demurred when asked by a reporter what he would say to reassure worried parents who might wonder if something had “slipped through the cracks” to allow drugs in. in the daycare.

“This didn’t slip through the cracks,” the mayor said. “The team did its job.”

Emergency medics were called to the scene Friday afternoon after three of the children showed unusual lethargy when awakened from their naps. The fourth child left before nap time, police said.

Emergency workers administered the anti-overdose drug Narcan to all three children in the apartment, then took them to the hospital.

Two of the children, a 2-year-old boy and an 8-month-old girl, regained consciousness and were “doing well” Monday, Chief Kenny said. The fourth child, a 2-year-old boy, was taken separately to the hospital. He, too, was given Narcan and was also “fine,” Chief Kenny said.

The third child, Nicholas Dominici, was pronounced dead at the hospital. He would have been 2 years old in November. As of Monday, the city medical examiner had not released the cause of death, but Chief Kenny said medical tests showed the other three children had fentanyl in their system.

On Monday, Nicholas’ father, Otoniel Feliz, 32, called it “horrible that drugs were found in a place where children are kept.”

“In whose mind does it make sense that you would mix narcotics with children? he said.

Authorities previously said they found the kilo of fentanyl in a hallway closet, along with two kilo presses used by drug dealers to package large quantities of drugs.

Another press was found in the room of a tenant, Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, who was renting the room from the daycare owner, Grei Mendez, 36. Mr. Brito and Ms. Mendez were charged with murder for showing “depraved acts.” indifference” in the death of Nicolas.

Ms. Mendez and Mr. Brito were arraigned Sunday evening in Bronx Criminal Court. Ms. Mendez’s lawyer, Andres Aranda, said at his arraignment that there was no indication that Ms. Mendez knew anything about the drugs. Efforts to reach Mr. Brito’s lawyer on Monday were unsuccessful.

Chief Kenny said Mr. Brito came to the United States from the Dominican Republic about a year ago; that police were looking for a “person of interest” in the case; and that security video footage appeared to show some items removed from the daycare after the 911 call. Investigators were also working with federal authorities to determine whether Divino Niño had been opened as a front for a drug operation, he said. declared.

Divino Niño, which was licensed by the state in May to serve up to eight children at a time, falls into a category of child care programs typically run in apartments, often by working-class residents to serve families of the working class.

There are more than 7,000 such programs serving more than 86,000 children across the city, according to a recent New School study. The death of Divino Niño has raised questions about the quality of regulation of these operations.

“How did this happen? What are our protocols? said City Councilwoman Pierina Ana Sanchez, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood where the death occurred. “Is the protocol to check, you know, every piece of ‘a house ?

Dr Vasan insisted that what happened at Divino Niño did not suggest a wider problem, saying the Health Ministry inspected “hundreds, if not thousands, of these sites every year for safety” .

The inspection system, he added, “has served us well as we keep our babies safe in thousands of these centers.”

Those who apply to operate an in-home day care program must undergo a background check, just like all other residents of the home. It was unclear whether Mr. Brito’s background had been checked. Neither he nor Ms. Mendez had an arrest record, Chief Kenny said.

The city’s inspection found that Divino Nino employees and volunteers had completed federal health and safety training.

Jeffrey Chartier, an attorney for Nicholas’ family, said Monday that the family looked into the day care program through a community center and was unaware that its operator also rented rooms to tenants.

The state Office of Children and Family Services, which licenses in-home child care programs, said in a statement it would not comment because the incident was still under investigation. investigation, but Mr. Adams defended city inspectors Monday.

“They did all the proper inspections that you’re supposed to do,” he said, accusing “the people there of protecting children.”

“The inspectors did not go to a pharmaceutical laboratory and ignore it,” he added.

Ms. Sanchez said the daycare tragedy brought attention to “the many different challenges that the Bronx faces,” including the scarcity of affordable child care and the deadly scourge of drugs.

Opioids like fentanyl caused an estimated 75,000 overdose deaths nationwide last year. According to New York City data, there were 2,668 fatal overdoses in the city in 2021, a record, with fentanyl a factor in four out of five drug-related deaths, and the highest rates were recorded in the Bronx.

When last year’s overdose data is released soon, Dr. Vasan said, “we will hit a record peak again.”

Divino Niño sits on a busy stretch of Morris Avenue in the North Bronx.

Christopher Lucero, 19, who lives on the same block, said the street was often noisy and filled with people hanging out on the sidewalk. The building housing the program is known locally for its drug dealers and fights out front, he said.

“You see people coming in and out of this place,” Mr. Lucero said. “Drugs are not unusual here.”

On Monday, a string of red beads hung from a blue metal security gate outside the apartment, whose door was still adorned with colorful signage welcoming families. On the sidewalk, mourners had made a small memorial consisting of candles, children’s toys and a bouquet of white flowers.

A neighbor, Jenni Hilario, 28, said Sunday that the apartment’s occupants played loud music at night.

“A lot of people do that here,” she said. “But they had daycare, and daycare starts early in the morning. So it didn’t give me confidence that they stayed out so late.

She added that she considered sending her young children to Divino Niño because of its affordability, but she wondered why they didn’t provide her with information about their safety policies.

“I didn’t trust them,” she said.

The report was provided by Sharon Otterman, Ana Ley, Eliza Shapiro, Claire Fahy, Kate Pasteur And Christophe Maag.