Two arrested in fentanyl-exposure death of 1-year-old at Divino Niño daycare

Two people have been arrested and charged in the death of a 1-year-old who was exposed to fentanyl at a Bronx daycare center along with three other children.

Grei Mendez, 36, who ran the Divino Niño daycare center, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, her cousin-in-law who rented a room from her, were both arrested on Saturday.

Police found two boys, 1 and 2, and an 8-month-old girl unconscious after they were called to the daycare center on Friday afternoon, NYPD Chief Detective Joseph Kenny said at a press briefing. First responders administered Narcan to all three children after they were determined to be exhibiting signs of a drug overdose.

1-year-old Nicholas Dominici died at Montefiore Hospital later that afternoon, while the two other children recovered.

Another 2-year-old boy from the daycare was checked into BronxCare Hospital after his mother noticed he was "lethargic and unresponsive" and recovered after being administered Narcan.

Police found a taped package containing several thousand dollars worth of fentanyl inside the daycare center, AP reported. A kilo press, a device used to package large amounts of drugs, was also recovered.

Mendez faces multiple charges, including manslaughter, criminal possession of drugs, and depraved indifference to murder. She is being held without bail and will appear in court again on Thursday.

Andres Aranda, who is representing Mendez, did not return a request for comment from USA TODAY. At Mendez' arraignment, Aranda said Mendez was unaware that there were any drugs in the building.

“It's a tragedy for the children," he said at the arraignment, according to CBS News. "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."

Zoila Dominici, the mother of Nicholas Dominici, told the New York Times she had toured the daycare center and saw nothing "out of the ordinary."

“God gave him to me, and now he’s gone. I have to thank God for the time we had with him," she said.

An annual unannounced search of the daycare center by the Department of Health earlier this month did not find any 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 9th site — and no violations were found," said Commissioner Ashwin Vasan of the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Given its strength, even a tiny amount of fentanyl could cause the death of a child who came into contact with it, according to Julie Gaither, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine.

"Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, which is in itself more potent than most prescription opioids," Gaither told USA TODAY. "It takes only a miniscule amount of fentanyl to kill a child and to send them into respiratory distress and respiratory arrest, and to become unresponsive very quickly."

According to a study released by Gaither earlier this year, fentanyl was blamed in 94% of opioid overdose deaths in children in 2021, up from just 5% in 1999.

"It's growing, and it's no longer a problem just for the older teens, those who who would be likely to misuse fentanyl," Gaither said. "We're increasingly seeing very young children exposed."

Contributing: AP

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bronx daycare death: Arrests in death of toddler exposed to fentanyl