NEW YORK — The devastated dad whose 1-year-old son died suddenly from suspected fentanyl exposure inside a Bronx day care center recalled giving the cheerful little boy a final kiss goodbye before heading off to work.
Little Nicholas Feliz-Dominici never made it home, killed at the end of his first week inside the facility where three other kids were sickened Friday — with a New York Police Department sweep uncovering a drug-packaging device inside and Mayor Eric Adams vowing a day later to discover who was responsible for the tragic death.
“My heart is broken,” weeping father Otoniel Feliz, 32, told The New York Daily News on Saturday. “I have no words to express how I’m feeling now. Nobody expects to send your kids to a safe place … and next you have a phone call saying ‘Your child has died.’ Every time I return home, he’s waiting for me at the door. It’s hard to come home yesterday and don’t see him over there.”
Feliz, the father of five, recalled his final farewell to the baby was followed by an afternoon phone call from his wife with the shocking news.
“First they told (the wife) my kid is on the way to the hospital because he’s not breathing well,” he said. “When she went to the hospital, the doctors said, ‘There’s no way. He’s dead.’ We don’t know what happened. We’re still waiting for the investigation.”
The female owner of the center — which records name as El Divino Nino Daycare — was taken into custody Friday after the fatal incident where three kids, including an 8-month-old girl, were saved when treated with Narcan after showing symptoms of opioid exposure, said NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny.
Another suspect, a man who rented an apartment near the day care center, was also in custody, a police source said Saturday.
Attempts to revive the unresponsive 1-year-old boy failed, with the Bronx baby pronounced dead at Montefiore Medical Center in Norwood.
“This is an active investigation and we are going to find out the cause of this incident,” Adams said at a media briefing. “This crisis is real and it is a wake-up call.”
Sources told the Daily News there were two suspects in custody on Saturday, and it appears federal law enforcement will be taking over the case. The device found inside the day care was a kilo press, described by police as commonly used by drug dealers packing large quantities of drugs.
“We had good recommendations about the place,” said Feliz. “We go over there and we check everything … We never imagined this happened, because it looked like a nice place.”
Feliz said his son seemed to like the center. “He was happy,” the grieving dad recounted.
The day care operator declined to comment when reached by The News and asked about possible criminal charges or how the drugs wound up in the facility. No charges were immediately filed in the tragedy, with a neighbor recounting the scene Friday when first responders arrived.
“The ambulance rushed out a baby,” said longtime local resident Alex Vega, 32. “Everybody knew he was dead already, because he was unresponsive. They were really trying. He was purple.”
He described the owner as hanging outside the day care during her off-hours, “drinking and hookah and playing dominoes” into the early morning hours.
“In a way, I’m not surprised that it happened there in that day care,” he added. “She didn’t fit my criteria to be a day care person.”
The state Office of Children and Family Services, without going into detail, confirmed it was part of the investigation into the child’s death.
“OCFS’s top priority is the health and safety of all children in child care programs and we are deeply saddened by this horrific tragedy,” said an agency statement. “We cannot comment further on an active agency and law enforcement investigation.”
The day care’s door was blocked by yellow police tape Saturday, with a police car parked on the sidewalk as police detectives gathered at the site.
Building super Neyl Garcia described the basement housing the day care as one bedroom, one living room, one bathroom, a small kitchen and a hallway. Bronx Civil Court documents showed the tenant was behind on her rent by more than $3,000.
Feliz recalled how his wife actually headed to the day care a little early Friday to pick up their son because she missed the boy, with no clue about the tragedy.
“We don’t know what happened,” he added. “We’re still waiting … It’s strange. It’s weird.”