2 Charged With Murder in Day Care Death of 1-Year-Old

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A day care center operator and her neighbor were charged with murder in the death of a 1-year-old boy who had just started at the center and was exposed to opioids there in his first week, the police and his family said.

Grei Mendez, 36, who ran Divino Niño in the Bronx, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, a 41-year-old man who lived at the address listed for the day care center, were both arrested Saturday evening on a count of murder showing “depraved indifference” in the death of Nicholas Feliz Dominici.

As of Sunday afternoon, Ms. Mendez and Mr. Acevedo Brito were still waiting to be arraigned in Bronx Criminal Court on charges that also included four counts of endangering the welfare of a child, 16 counts of assault and criminal possession of drugs. At the center, a sign reading “Welcome” remained on the door, and some candles, a bouquet of white flowers and a plastic fire truck sat by the door.

Nicholas had appeared to be adjusting well at the center, a small, cheerful place that was affordable and had a good reputation, said his mother, Zoila Dominici, who toured it on her son’s first day.

“I didn’t see anything that looked out of the ordinary,” she said. “Just little beds and toys.” She said Ms. Mendez appeared to be a responsible woman who played the children soothing music to get them to nap.

“God gave him to me, and now he’s gone,” said Ms. Dominici, a 34-year-old caregiver for older people who has four older children. “I have to thank God for the time we had with him.”

On Friday, emergency medical workers arrived at the six-story brick building in the north Bronx around 2:45 p.m. A neighbor said one of the women who worked at the center ran out, screaming that she could not wake the children from their nap.

Emergency workers found Nicholas, who would have turned 2 in November, unconscious. They also found a 2-year-old boy and an 8-month-old girl, both “unconscious and unresponsive,” the police said.

All three children showed symptoms of opioid exposure, the police said.

Zoila Dominici with her 1-year-old son, Nicholas Feliz Dominici.Credit…

They gave the young children the overdose-reversal medication Narcan and took them away. Another 2-year-old-boy, who had left the small ground-floor day care center shortly after noon, was taken to a hospital after his mother noticed an unusual lethargy had replaced a toddler’s normal energy.

Nicholas was pronounced dead at Montefiore Medical Center on Friday. By early Saturday, the other three children were in critical or stable condition. After an autopsy on Saturday, the New York City medical examiner’s office said further examination was needed to determine Nicholas’s cause of death.

Joseph E. Kenny, the Police Department’s chief of detectives, said at a news briefing on Friday that police suspicions about opioid exposure were prompted by the children’s symptoms and by the discovery of a so-called kilo press — commonly used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs — at the day care during a search.

The opioid was not identified, but during Friday’s briefing, Mayor Eric Adams and Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, described the dangers of fentanyl and the drug’s pervasiveness.

“This crisis is real, and it is a real wake‑up call for individuals who have opioids or fentanyl in their homes,” Mayor Adams said.

Fentanyl, a highly potent drug used to treat moderate to severe pain, can be fatal in small doses if it is ingested or injected, said Dr. Paul Christo, an associate professor and pain specialist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Two milligrams, the equivalent of 10 grains of salt, are enough to kill an adult who ingests that amount.

But simply inhaling or touching fentanyl is “highly unlikely” to be fatal either to an adult or a small child, Dr. Christo said.

Ms. Dominici learned what happened to her son when she arrived at the day care at 3 p.m. on Friday to pick him up, she said on Sunday.

She saw the police surrounding the building and Ms. Mendez inside crying, she said.

Then she got a call from a coordinator of the program telling her Nicholas was in the hospital.

Nicholas was very intelligent, his mother said Sunday. “When he saw I was sad, he said, ‘Mommy, what’s wrong?’ He would look at you with these eyes like he understood. He was very special.”

Ms. Dominici said her son had been a healthy child who had not even had the flu since he was born. His 7-year-old sister and three older brothers, 13-year-old twins and an 8-year-old, doted on him, making sure he never ate anything he was not supposed to.

“He was the little prince of the house,” she said. “They took such good care of him.”

Ms. Dominici said her daughter and 8-year-old son were with her when she arrived at the hospital and saw doctors surrounding her son, trying to save him. They wept as it became clear that Nicholas would not survive.

Ms. Dominici said she had to call her husband, a groundskeeper at a golf course, to tell him what happened.

The family is struggling with what comes next, she said. Ms. Dominici described looking at Nicholas’s crib, new clothes he had not worn and toys she had been waiting to give him. She said she wondered what she would do with them now.

“He shouldn’t have died like that,” she said.

Christopher Maag contributed reporting.

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