The owner of a nursery in New York City and a tenant living in the building have been arrested after a one-year-old boy died and three others fell ill following apparent fentanyl exposure.
The arrests come after authorities discovered four children – aged eight months to two years – showing signs of suspected opioid overdose after spending time at Divino Nino in the Bronx, just days after it passed a city inspection.
Nicholas Dominici, one, was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Three others were revived after medics gave them the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, authorities said.
On Saturday evening, police arrested the owner of the facility, Grei Mendez, 36, and a building tenant, Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, on charges of depraved indifference murder, assault and criminal possession of narcotics, including fentanyl.
Mendez claimed she had no knowledge of the highly potent drug being on the premises.
Police said they found a taped package containing several thousand dollars worth of fentanyl along with a kilo press – a device used to package large quantities of drugs – after executing a search warrant on the nursery, a home-based operation which opened in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx earlier this year.
The drug was found near a mat where the children had napped, Joseph Kenny, the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives, said at a news conference Monday evening.
A second press was found inside the adjoining room occupied by Brito, according to a criminal complaint.
The day care facility opened in January of this year. It passed both of its inspections, authorities said, including a surprise visit made by inspectors earlier this month.
One resident said it was “obvious” the day care was a drug front telling the New York Post: “It was a day-care for a year with no children. For one year, she had a day-care with no children but people go in. But no babies?
“A day-care with no children and men coming in and out. Yes, we knew something. We knew something, something was not good happening there.”
Nicholas’s parents, Zoila Dominici and Otoniel Feliz, said their son began attending the nursery a week ago.
“He was so intelligent. He would repeat everything you would say to him,” Ms Dominici said.
“He had so much love. Everyone who knew him appreciated him, all of our neighbours.”
New York City, like much of the country, has seen rising levels of opioid-related deaths, with the vast majority of fatalities now attributed to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid which can be 50 times stronger than heroin.
At a press conference on Saturday, mayor Eric Adams said Nicholas’s death underscores the challenges the city faces in its fight against opioids.
“This crisis is real and it is a real wake-up call for individuals who have opioids or fentanyl in their homes,” he said.
“The mere contact is deadly for an adult and it’s extremely deadly for a child.”
The city’s medical examiner is investigating Nicholas’s cause of death.