The owner of a New York day care center and a tenant living in the building were arrested after a 1-year-old boy died and three others fell ill from apparent exposure to fentanyl.
The arrests come after authorities discovered four children – aged eight months to two years – showing signs of a suspected opioid overdose after spending time at Divino Nino in the Bronx, just days after spending time with passed a municipal inspection.
Nicholas Dominici, one, was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Three other people were revived after doctors gave them the drug Narcan, which reverses overdoses, authorities said.
On Saturday evening, police arrested the owner of the establishment, Grei Mendez, 36, and a tenant of the building, Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, for murder by depraved indifference, assault and criminal possession of drugs, including fentanyl.
Mendez claimed she had no knowledge of the highly potent drug being present at the scene.
Police said they found a recorded package containing several thousand dollars worth of fentanyl as well as a pound press – a device used to package large quantities of drugs – after executing a search warrant at the nursery, a door-to-door operation that opened in the Kingsbridge neighborhood of the Bronx, more early this year.
The drugs were found near a rug where the children had taken a nap, New York Police Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said at a news conference Monday evening.
A second press was found inside the next room Brito occupied, according to a criminal complaint.
The daycare opened in January this year. It passed both inspections, authorities said, including a surprise visit by inspectors earlier this month.
One resident said it was “obvious” the daycare was a drug front, telling the New York Post: “It was a daycare for a year with no kids. For a year, she had a daycare without children but with people. Come in. But no babies?
“A daycare with no children or men coming in and out. Yes, we knew something. We knew something was wrong there.”
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Nicholas’ parents, Zoila Dominici and Otoniel Feliz, said their son started attending daycare a week ago.
“He was so smart. He would repeat everything you told him,” Ms Dominici said.
“He had so much love. Everyone who knew him loved him, all our neighbors.”
New York City, like much of the country, has seen an increase in opioid-related deaths, with the vast majority of deaths now attributed to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be 50 times more potent than heroin.
At a news conference Saturday, Mayor Eric Adams said Nicholas’ death underscores the challenges the city faces in its fight against opioids.
“This crisis is real and is a real wake-up call for people who have opioids or fentanyl in their homes,” he said.
“Simple contact is fatal for an adult and extremely fatal for a child.”
The town medical examiner is investigating Nicholas’ cause of death.