A kilogram of fentanyl was found near mats used by children to nap at a Bronx daycare site where a toddler died and three other children were hospitalized last week, police said Monday evening.

Chief Joseph Kenney, the police department’s chief of detectives, explained how close the powerful drug was to the children: “It was placed under a mat where the children had been sleeping earlier,” he said at a news conference, where he joined the city’s mayor. Eric Adams and other city officials.

The troubling revelation came as Adams and the city health commissioner defended the department’s oversight of the day care program, one of thousands of similar operations in New York City licensed to operate out of people’s homes.

City inspectors, who inspect homes on behalf of the state, made a “surprise” visit to the daycare program where the boy, Divino Nino of Morris Street, died on Sept. 6. They found that it fully complied with a 40-point checklist, which noted that “all medications and toxic substances” “are used and stored so as not to pose any danger” and that “poisonous, toxic, flammable and hazardous substances are not accessible to children.”

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, Health Commissioner, said at the press conference that inspectors followed their usual routine to ensure there were no risks to children in the apartment housing the program.

Checking for a powerful synthetic opioid was not their usual practice, he said.

“I’m so sorry, but one of the things child welfare inspectors are not trained to do is look for fentanyl,” Dr. Vasan said. “But maybe we need to start.”

Mr. Adams demurred when a reporter asked what he would say to reassure concerned parents who might wonder whether something “fell through the cracks” to allow drugs into the daycare site.

“This did not fall through the cracks,” the mayor said. “The team did its job”

Emergency medical personnel were called to the scene Friday afternoon after three of the children showed unusual lethargy when woken from their nap. Police said the fourth child left before nap time.

Rescuers administered the overdose-reversing drug Narcan to the three children in the apartment and then took them to the hospital.

Chief Kenney said two of the children, a 2-year-old boy and an 8-month-old girl, regained consciousness and were “doing well” on Monday. The fourth child, a two-year-old boy, was taken to hospital separately. Chief Kenney said he also received Narcan and was also “doing fine.”

The third child, Nicholas Dominici, was declared dead at the hospital. He would have turned 2 in November. As of Monday, the city coroner had not released a cause of death, but Chief Kenney said medical tests showed the other three children had fentanyl in their systems.

On Monday, Nicolas’ father, Ottoniel Velez, 32, called it “horrific that drugs could be found in a place where children are being cared for.”

“How do you think you would mix drugs with children?” He said.

Authorities had previously said they found a kilogram of fentanyl in a hallway closet, along with a pair of so-called kilo stacks used by drug dealers to package large quantities of drugs.

Another plunger was found in the bedroom of the tenant, Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, who was renting the room from the daycare program owner, Gray Mendez, 36. Mr. Brito and Ms. Mendez have been charged with murder for showing “perverted images of indifference” in Nicholas’ death.

Ms. Mendez and Mr. Brito were arraigned Sunday night in Bronx Criminal Court. Ms. Mendez’s lawyer, Andres Aranda, said during her arraignment there was no indication that Ms. Mendez knew anything about drugs. Efforts to reach Mr. Brito’s lawyer were unsuccessful on Monday.

President Kenney said Mr. Brito came to the United States from the Dominican Republic about a year ago; that police were looking for a “person of interest” in the case; Security video footage appears to show some items being removed from the daycare location after a 911 call was made. He said investigators are also working with federal authorities to determine if Divino Niño was opened as a front for a drug operation.

The Divino Niño program, which the state licensed in May to serve up to eight children at a time, falls into the category of daycare programs typically run in apartments, often run by working-class residents to serve working-class families.

There are more than 7,000 such programs serving more than 86,000 children spread across the city, according to a recent study by The New School. The death in Divino Nino raised questions about how well such operations were organised.

“How did this happen? What are our protocols?” “Is it protocol to check, you know, every room in the house?” said Councilwoman Perina Ana Sanchez, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood where the death occurred.

Dr Vasan insisted that what happened at Divino Nino did not indicate a wider problem, saying the Ministry of Health inspects “hundreds if not thousands of such sites every year for their safety”.

He added that the inspection system “served us well because we keep our children safe through thousands of these centers.”

Those who apply to run a home day care program must undergo a background check, as must any other resident of the home. It was not clear whether Mr. Brito’s background had been checked. Chief Kenney said neither he nor Ms. Mendez had an arrest record.

The city inspection noted that Divino Nino employees and volunteers have completed federal health and safety training.

Jeffrey Chartier, an attorney for the Nicholas family, said Monday that the family checked out the daycare program through a community center and did not know its operator was also renting rooms to tenants.

The state Office of Children and Family Services, which licenses home day care programs, said in a statement that it would not comment because the incident remains under investigation, but Mr. Adams defended city inspectors on Monday.

“They did all the proper inspections that you’re supposed to do,” he said, blaming “the people who are there to protect the children.”

He added: “Inspectors did not enter, see a pharmaceutical laboratory, and ignore it.”

Ms. Sanchez said the daycare tragedy had drawn attention to “many different challenges the Bronx faces,” including the dearth of affordable child care and the deadly drug scourge.

Opioids like fentanyl caused nearly 75,000 overdose deaths across the country last year. According to New York City data, there were 2,668 fatal overdose deaths in the city in 2021, a record number, with fentanyl being a factor in four out of five drug deaths, with the highest rates coming in the Bronx.

When last year’s overdose data is published soon, “we will once again reach a record peak,” Dr. Vasan said.

Divino Niño is located along vibrant Morris Avenue in the North Bronx.

Christopher Lucero, 19, who lives in the same building, said the street is often noisy and full of people loitering on the sidewalk. He added that the building containing the program is known locally for the presence of drug dealers and fighters abroad.

“You see people coming in and out of that place,” Mr. Lucero said. “Drugs are not out of the ordinary here.”

On Monday, a red-beaded rosary was hung from a blue metal security gate outside the apartment, which still had colorful signs welcoming families adorning the door. On the sidewalk, mourners made a small memorial of candles, children’s toys and a bouquet of white flowers.

One neighbour, Jenny Hilario, 28, said on Sunday that the occupants of the apartment were making loud music at night.

“A lot of people do that here,” she said. “But they had daycare, and daycare starts early in the morning. So it didn’t give me confidence, because they stayed out so late.”

She added that she considered sending her young children to Divino Nino because of its affordability, but wondered why they didn’t provide her with information about their safety policies.

“I had no confidence in them,” she said.

He contributed to the preparation of the reports Sharon Otterman, I have, Eliza Shapiro, Claire Fahey, Kate PastorAnd Christopher Mag.

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