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Police responded to a daycare in the Bronx where three children were found unconscious. (Sam Costanza for NY Daily News/Getty Images)

US: Daycare owner charged with murder

September 18, 2023

By Artemis Moshtaghian and Celina Tebor, CNN

(CNN) — Two suspects have been arrested and charged with murder in connection with the death of a 1-year-old boy after he and three other children were exposed to suspected opioids at a Bronx day care Friday.

Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were arrested Saturday after Nicholas Dominici died and two 2-year-old boys and an 8-month-old girl were exposed to fentanyl and suffered acute opioid intoxication at Divino Niño day care in the Bronx.

They were charged with murder, manslaughter, assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal possession of a controlled substance, court documents show. They were arraigned and remanded without bail Sunday night.

According to court documents, Mendez is the owner and operator of the day care, and Brito is her husband’s cousin and a tenant who resides in a bedroom within the day care.

New York City police were called to the day care around 2:30 p.m. Friday, where they discovered three unconscious children.

First responders administered Narcan, an opioid reversal treatment, to all three children in an attempt to revive them, NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said at a news conference early Saturday.

Two children survived, but 1-year-old Nicholas died at Montefiore Medical Center, the NYPD said in a statement.

Another 2-year-old boy, whose family had taken him home from the day care around 12:15 p.m. ET, was found “acting lethargic and unresponsive” by his mother. He was brought to BronxCare Health System where he was administered Narcan, which Kenny said saved his life.

Law enforcement executed a search warrant at the day care Friday and found a kilogram of fentanyl inside a hallway closet, court documents say. Officials also said they found three kilogram press devices – two inside the hallway closet and one inside Brito’s bedroom.

A kilogram press is “commonly used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs,” Kenny said at the Saturday news conference.

Mendez’s defense attorney, Andres Manuel Aranda, told CNN his client plans to fight the charges.

“We feel that she doesn’t have… anything (to do) with this case besides taking care of the kids,” Aranda said. “She has no previous knowledge of any contraband in the apartment. None whatsoever.”
Mendez “feels horrible about what happened,” her attorney said, adding she was the one who called the police and ambulance.

CNN has reached out to Brito’s attorney for comment.

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the center is a “home-based child care site under the official authority of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.”

Vasan said the day care was inspected by members of the department less than a week ago and inspectors cited no violations.

“This is a new site that was opened in January of just this year, and had its routine inspections: two, in the beginning in order to get its license, and one surprise visit – that was the September 9 site – and no violations were found,” Vasan said. He added that while it is unclear what took place at the day care Friday, an active investigation is underway.

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration has prioritized the city’s burgeoning overdose crisis in its mental health plan, Vasan said.

“A small child – not someone we would think would be at risk of interacting with opioids – has come into contact with a powerful substance which can through either inhalation, ingestion or in touching of the skin, intoxicate the recipient,” he said.

Drug overdose deaths reached a record level in the United States this spring, with new data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing more than 111,000 people died from a drug overdose in the 12-month period ending in April, according to the latest estimates.

Recent research shows opioid-related deaths among children have increased significantly, mirroring trends among adults.

A surge beginning in 2018 led to a nearly threefold increase in deaths among older adolescents and a nearly sixfold increase among children younger than 5.

In 2021, 40 infants and 93 children ages 1 to 4 died from an overdose of the powerful opioid fentanyl. Although deaths among teens are typically related to drug use, deaths among younger children are believed to be related to drugs left within reach.

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