Two facing murder charges in death of 1-year-old after possible opioid exposure while in daycare in Bronx

05:55 18.09.2023 - CBS News

Two people are facing multiple charges, including murder, in the death of a 1-year-old boy while he was in daycare in the New York City borough of the Bronx.

Grei Mendez, 36, stayed silent as she was walked from a police station in handcuffs Sunday.

Mendez owns Divino Niño Daycare, where one-year-old Nicholas Dominici died and three other children were hospitalized after what authorities say was suspected opioid exposure. First responders had found the babies in cardiac arrest and administered Narcan.

Read more: Police investigating if children were exposed to fentanyl in deadly Bronx daycare incident, sources say

"It's a tragedy for the children. It's a tragedy for her because I don't believe she's involved in what happened, so it's really bad all around for everybody," said Andres Aranda, Mendez's attorney.

Mendez was arraigned Sunday night and denied bail. She faces several charges, along with 41-year-old Carlisto Acevedo Brito, Mendez's husband's cousin.

Mendez was renting a room to Acevedo Brito for $200 a month.

"She just didn't know. She rented a room to somebody, and she didn't know what was going on," Aranda said.

In court, officials said one kilo of fentanyl was found in a closet at the daycare, along with two kilo presses, which are used to process drugs. A third kilo press was found in Acevedo Brito's bedroom, authorities added..

At least one surviving child tested positive for fentanyl.

"The way those kids got hurt I think is something that nobody, nobody deserves that. No mother, no grandmother," neighbor Joanne Martinez said.

"As a father, you always trust other people to take care of your kids when you go to work. This is the last thing you could possibly think would happen to your son," neighbor Hailey Rivera said.

This weekend, Nicholas's grieving parents told CBS News New York the daycare was recommended to them by a community center but was rumored to have been renting out rooms.

"If I had known what would have happened," his mother said in Spanish, "I would not have taken him there."

Read more: Parents of 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici, who died at Bronx daycare, grappling with unimaginable loss

The daycare had passed a city inspection as recently as this month.

"The city's gonna have to step up more and go through every daycare and investigate them good because the way things happened in there, I don't think it was right," Martinez said.

The two suspects are each facing more than 10 charges, including murder, criminal possession of a narcotic and endangering the welfare of a child.

Mendez's next court appearance is scheduled for Thursday morning. Acevido Brito is expected to be arraigned soon.

The medical examiner has yet to determine Nicholas' official cause of death.

/ Monday, September 18, 2023, 5:55 AM /

themes:  New York City  New York (state)

Bronx day care center owner, neighbor charged in 1-year-old's death after possible fentanyl exposure

The owner of the Bronx day care center where a 1-year-old boy died after being exposed to what may have been fentanyl on Friday was charged Saturday night with murder along with her neighbor, police announced.

Divino Nino owner Grei Mendez De Ventura, 36, and neighbor Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were arrested on Saturday and each hit with 11 charges, including depraved-indifference murder, assault and child endangerment after the horrific incident that also sent three children to the hospital, cops said Saturday.

The pair were taken into police custody on Saturday after a search of the building revealed nearly a kilo of fentanyl, as well as multiple kilo presses - a device used to combine fentanyl with other drugs like cocaine and heroin, officials and sources said.

Ventura, who sources say is a native of the Dominican Republic who recently moved to the US, opened the Kingsbridge day care in May and the facility passed a surprise annual inspection Sept. 6, records show.

21-month-old Nicholas Dominici died on Friday after he and three other toddlers - a 1-year-old boy, two 2-year-old boys and an 8-month-old girl - were found unresponsive in the basement after they are believed to have inhaled the deadly drug.

Two of the tots were in cardiac arrest when first responders arrived at the facility, with Nicholas and a 2-year-old boy being given multiple doses of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, authorities said.

Nicholas was rushed to Montefiore hospital, where he died, police said.

Police said Saturday night that the 2-year-old boy remains in critical condition and the 8-month-old female is listed in stable condition.

A fourth child, a 2-year-old boy, picked up from the day care center just before 1 p.m. Friday also appeared to have been exposed to drugs.

He was privately transported to BronxCare Health System and is in stable condition, cops said.

In addition to murder, they are each also charged with: manslaughter of a person under 11 years old; manslaughter recklessly causing death; four counts assault causing injury through risk of death; four counts of assault causing injury during a felony; four counts of assault causing serious injury; four counts of reckless assault causing serious injury; three counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance; criminal possession of a controlled substance; criminal possession of narcotics; and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

Friday was the end of Nicholas' first week at the Morris Avenue day care, the boy's grieving father Otoniel Feliz, told reporters.

He said he initially thought his son was sick from carbon monoxide poisoning.

"It was a peaceful place, it seemed like they would take good care [of the kids]. They always keep in contact with us. Everything seemed fine," he said.

"We expected that we were taking our son to a place where he would be taken care of, not to the funeral home."

Anguished mom of 1-year-old who died of suspected opioid death at Bronx day care speaks out

The heartbroken mom of 1-year-old Nicholas Feliz Dominici, who died from a suspected opioid overdose at a Bronx daycare being used as a drug front, said her son had only started at the center the week before, as horrifying details were revealed about the drugs strewn about at the scene.

Zoila Dominici and Otoniel Feliz's 1-year-old son Nicholas was still getting adjusted to the day care when he and three other tots fell ill from fentanyl found at the facility on Friday, according to the grief-stricken mother.

"We spoke to the ones who are in charge ... They recommended that place and apparently complied with all of the rules. We were on a waitlist for our son to qualify," his mother told CBS New York in Spanish.

Nicholas, who would have celebrated his 2nd birthday in November, was "so intelligent."

"He would repeat everything you would say to him. He had so much love. Everyone who knew him appreciated him, all of our neighbors," Dominici said.

The owner of Divino Ni?±o Daycare, Grei Mendez De Ventura, 36, and her alleged cohort, Caristo Acevedo Brito, 41, who lived in the basement along with the drugged-up day-care business, were taken into custody on Saturday.

The pair was charged with murder, assault and child endangerment in the suspected fentanyl-exposure death of 1-year-old Nicholas.

Police have launched a manhunt for Ventura's husband, who lived with her next door and is also sought in the boy's death, sources said.

Nicholas, who was the youngest of five children, and his family lived within walking distance of the home-based day-care center, which was recommended to the family by Kingsbridge Heights Community Center.

The day care, registered under the city's Department of Children and Family Services, only opened this past January but passed a surprise inspection about a week earlier.

"Apparently, the place passed all of the inspections. Supposedly that apartment was only for day cares, but the rumor is, from what we have heard, they also rented rooms," Feliz said.

Three other children - two 2-year-old boys and the 8-month-old sister of one of them - remain hospitalized after being exposed to the deadly drug while at the facility, according to police.

The children were apparently exposed when the fentanyl was cut in the day-care center and some of it floated into the air, allowing them to inhale it, law enforcement sources explained.

Cops responded to a 911 call from the Kingsbridge child care center shortly after 3:30 p.m. Friday and found three of the children unresponsive. Some of the children were administered Narcan to try to save them.

Nicholas was rushed to Montefiore Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

When authorities went to the day care Friday to investigate, they found three kilopresses, which are used to package large amounts of drugs, along with a kilo of fentanyl, prosecutors revealed in new filings.

"Look at what happened. If I had known, I wouldn't have taken him," the boy's mother said.

His grieving father added: "The hardest thing is for me to come home and open that door and not see Nicholas saying, СDad, Dad.' It is too hard. We can't. Because the irresponsibility of people that don't know, they don't know that playing with drugs and leaving them where kids can reach them is too dangerous."

The medical examiner's office says Nicholas' exact cause of death is pending.

A criminal investigation into the day-care center is ongoing.

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

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

Grei Mendez, 36, who ran Divino Ni?±o 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," four counts of endangering the welfare of a charge, 16 counts of assault, and criminal possession of drugs.

Emergency medical workers arrived at the six-story brick building in the north Bronx around 2:45 p.m. on Friday to find Nicholas Feliz Dominici, 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.

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.

Joseph E. Kenny, the Police Department's chief of detectives, said at a news briefing on Friday that 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 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. "The mere contact is deadly for an adult and it's extremely deadly for a child."

The boy's mother, Zoila Dominici, said on Sunday that she arrived at the day care at 3 p.m. on Friday to pick her son up when she saw the police surrounding the building and Ms. Grei inside crying.

Then she got a call from a coordinator of the program telling her Nicholas, who had only been at the day care center five days, was in the hospital.

Nicholas, the youngest of five children, was a smart boy who spoke and learned to count at an early age and was walking by the time he was 10 months old, said Ms. Dominici, a 34-year-old caregiver for older people.

"The other children adored him. He was the little prince of the house," she said. "He shouldn't have died like that."

Owner of Bronx day care where 1-year-old died after believed fentanyl exposure, neighbor taken into police custody

The owner of a Bronx day care and a neighbor were taken into police custody Saturday in connection with the death of a 21-month-old boy and the sickening of three other kids from fentanyl found at the facility, sources told The Post.

Charges are pending against Divino Nino owner Grei Mendez De Ventura and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, who sources said hails from the Dominican Republic and is a new arrival in the United States. The 41-year-old Brito's legal status is unclear.

A third suspect, who is believed to have sublet a room inside the child-care center, is still being sought.

Ventura, 36, opened the Morris Avenue day care in May, and the facility passed a surprise annual inspection Sept. ..... 

Nearly a kilo of fentanyl and a kilo press, a device typically used to combine fentanyl with either cocaine or heroin, was found inside the space apartment that was also used by the day care, officials and police sources said.

The children are believed to have inhaled the deadly drug, sources said.

The mother and grandmother of two of the survivors - a 2-year-old boy in critical condition at Montefiore Hospital and his 8-month-old sister - praised the police work.

"It's good, it's very good. I want justice, because what happened here is unbelievable," the mom of the two kids told The Post.

"All guilt will be paid," said the children's grandmother. Both women asked for anonymity.

The horrific scene unfolded around 2:40 p.m. ..... 

Nicholas later died at Montefiore Hospital.


His mother rushed her 2-year-old son to Bronxcare Hospital when she realized the child, who had appeared to have been sleeping, was unresponsive. THe child is recovering, authorities said.

Bronx day care owner says she had no idea fentanyl was in closet after 1-year-old dies of suspected exposure

The owner of the New York City day care center where a 1-year-oldboydied due to apparent opioid exposure says she had no idea drugs were in the Bronx facility.

Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were charged with murder with "depraved indifference," manslaughter, assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and criminal possession of a controlled substance. The charges come after four children became sick, and one later died, from apparent fentanyl exposure on Friday at Divino Ni?±o day care.

An attorney for Mendez, Andres Manual Aranda, said Monday, "My client had no knowledge that [drugs] were there. She's the one that called the police. She called 911 and 311."

Officials found a 1-kilogram package containing a "white powdery substance" that was identified as fentanyl inside a hallway closet at the day care, the criminal complaint said.

Authorities also recovered two kilogram press devices inside that same hallway closet and another inside the bedroom where Brito resided, the complaint said. New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said Friday that such devices are "commonly used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs."

Brito, the cousin of Mendez's husband, had been renting a bedroom in the day care for the past two to three months, Aranda said.

"My client feels terrible for what happened. She feels awful for the children," Aranda said, noting Mendez never noticed other children having symptoms of drug poisoning before.

A plea of not guilty was entered for Mendez and Brito at their arraignment Sunday in Bronx criminal court and both were remanded without bail.

An attorney for Brito could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.


All three children were administered Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote.

The 1-year-old, Nicholas Dominici, was pronounced dead at a Montefiore Medical Center. His cause and manner of death remain under investigation.


Police said a fourth child, a 2-year-old boy, was taken to BronxCare Health System by his mother after she picked him up from the day care center around 12:15 p.m. that day. The mother noticed he was acting "lethargic and unresponsive" once they returned home. At the hospital, he was also administered Narcan to save his life. He is in stable condition.

The criminal complaint said that the three surviving children suffered from acute opioid intoxication.

It further revealed that a urine sample from the 8-month-old girl revealed the presence of fentanyl. Additional toxicology tests on biological samples from the other children were done and are pending results, the complaint said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Authorities have not said how the children came into contact with the drug. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that in cases of children opioid-exposure, nearly all cases involved kids who orally ingested the substance, rather than touching or inhaling it, The Associated Press reported.

The FDNY detected no carbon monoxide nor other environmental toxins in the day care and the day care employees present did not experience "symptoms of poisoning or exposure to environmental toxins," the complaint said.

The home-based day care center had opened in January and passed two routine inspections to secure its license. On Sept. 9, it underwent a surprise inspection by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and no violations were found, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said Friday.

NBC News has reached out to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services for comment.

Mendez is due back in court on Sept. 21 and Brito on Sept. 22.

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