The owner of a Bronx daycare says she had no idea there was fentanyl in the closet after a 1-year-old died from suspected exposure

The owner of a New York daycare center takes care of a deceased one-year-old boy After apparent opioid exposure, she says she had no idea there were drugs in the Bronx facility.

Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were charged with depraved indifference murder, manslaughter, assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal possession of a controlled substance. The charges were filed after four children became ill from apparent fentanyl exposure at the Divino Niño daycare on Friday and one later died.

A lawyer for Mendez, Andres Manual Aranda, said Monday: “My client had no knowledge of this [drugs] was there. She called the police. She called 911 and 311.”

Officers found a 1-kilogram package containing a “white powdery substance” identified as fentanyl in a hall closet at the daycare, the criminal complaint states.

Authorities also seized two-pound press machines in that hall closet and another in the bedroom where Brito lived, the complaint says. New York Police Department Detective Chief Joseph Kenny said Friday that such devices are “commonly used by drug dealers to package large quantities of drugs.”

Brito, Mendez’s husband’s cousin, had been renting a room at the daycare for two to three months, Aranda said.

Emergency responders work at the scene of a fatal fentanyl poisoning accident at a Bronx daycare center.
Emergency responders work at the scene of a fatal fentanyl poisoning accident at a Bronx daycare center.NBC New York

“My client feels terrible about what happened. The children are doing her terrible things,” Aranda said, noting that Mendez has “never” noticed other children having symptoms of drug poisoning.

At Sunday’s arraignment in Bronx Criminal Court, Mendez and Brito pleaded not guilty and both were remanded without bail.

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

The New York Police Department said Friday that officers responded to a 911 call around 2:45 p.m. and found a 1-year-old boy, a 2-year-old boy and an 8-month-old girl “unconscious and unresponsive” at the daycare center.

All three children were given Narcan, the antidote for opioid overdose.

One-year-old Nicholas Dominici was pronounced dead at a medical center in Montefiore. His cause and manner of death are still under investigation.

The condition of the two-year-old is classified as critical, the condition of the eight-month-old is stable.

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 daycare around 12:15 p.m. that day. When they returned home, the mother noticed that he was acting “lethargic and listless.” He was also given Narcan at the hospital to save his life. He is in stable condition.

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

It was also found that a urine sample from the 8-month-old girl showed the presence of fentanyl. Additional toxicology tests on biological samples from the other children have been conducted and the results are pending, the complaint states.

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

Authorities have not said how the children came into contact with the drug. A study published in 2019 Journal of Pediatrics found that among children exposed to opioids, almost all cases involved children who took the substance orally rather than touching or inhaling it. The Associated Press reported.

The FDNY did not detect carbon monoxide or other environmental toxins at the daycare, and attending daycare employees did not observe any “symptoms of intoxication or exposure to environmental toxins,” the complaint states.

The home daycare opened in January and passed two routine inspections to obtain its license. It underwent a surprise inspection by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Sept. 9 and no violations were found, Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said Friday.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) said in a statement: “OCFS’ top priority is the health and safety of all children in child care programs, and we are deeply saddened by this tragedy.” At the direction of Governor Hochul, we are investigating “We report this terrible incident and cannot comment further on an ongoing investigation by authorities and law enforcement.”

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducts inspections of family day care centers and school-age child care programs.

These assessments include background checks on care providers, health and safety inspections of the space, and operators must disclose whether other people are regularly on the premises. It’s not clear whether the Sept. 9 review disclosed whether Brito lives at the daycare.

NBC News has reached out to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for comment.

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

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