Two people have been charged with murder after a one-year-old boy died at a New York City nursery from exposure to opioids.
Nicholas Dominici – who had started at the Bronx nursery only a week ago – died in hospital after a kilogram of fentanyl was discovered under mats in an area where children napped.
An eight-month-old girl and two other boys, aged two, also fell ill after being exposed to fentanyl.
The owner of the nursery, Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41 – a cousin of Mendez’s husband and a tenant living in the same building as the nursery – were arrested on Friday.
They have both since been charged with murdering Nicholas after exposing him to fatal amounts of fentanyl at the Bronx nursery, Divino Niño.
Mendez and Brito are also facing charges of manslaughter, assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal possession of a controlled substance, according to court documents.
Watch the moment police arrest Grei Mendez and Carlisto Acevedo Brito
The pair were remanded without bail on Sunday night.
Damian Williams, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said on Tuesday: “We allege that the defendants poisoned four babies and killed one of them because they were running a drug operation from a daycare centre.
“A daycare centre – a place where children should be kept safe, not surrounded by a drug that could kill them in an instant.”
Mendez’s defence lawyer, Andres Manuel Aranda, told CNN his client plans to fight the charges.
New York City police were called to the nursery on Friday where they discovered three unconscious children, including Nicholas.
Narcan, an opioid reversal treatment, was administered to all three children in an attempt to revive them, New York Police Department (NYPD) Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny told reporters.
Although two of the children survived, Nicholas died at Montefiore Medical Centre.
Nicholas’ parents, Zoila Dominici and Otoniel Feliz, said he had only started attending the nursery a week ago.
Another two-year-old boy, whose family had taken him home from the nursery on Friday, was later found “acting lethargic and unresponsive” by his mother and admitted to the BronxCare Health System.
Chief Kenny said the boy’s life was saved after he received Narcan, while adding in a later update that the three surviving children are “doing fine”.
As well as the kilogram of fentanyl discovered under the nap mats, police also found three kilogram press devices – one of which was found inside Brito’s bedroom.
A kilogram press is “commonly used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs”, Chief Kenny said.
He added there had been no previous complaints about the nursery being connected to any drug-related activities.
‘We allege that the defendants poisoned four babies and killed one of them because they were running a drug operation from a daycare centre’
Dr Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said child care inspectors are “not trained” to look for fentanyl.
“I’m very sorry but one of the things my child care inspectors are not trained to do is look for fentanyl,” Dr Vasan said.
“Maybe we need to start.”
He added that an inspection of the nursery had been carried out a week beforehand, but no issues were reported.
Eric Adams, New York City mayor, called the incident “total madness”, but thanked emergency responders for taking swift action.
New York City, like much of the United States, has seen rising levels of opioid-related deaths in recent years, with the vast majority now attributed to fentanyl.
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