The shocking death of a Bronx toddler who inhaled fentanyl at a day care center that served as a front for a drug mill has shaken locals — and dredged up memories of the “bad old days” when crack cocaine infested the neighborhood and sent many promising youth to an early grave.
Some say the fentanyl epidemic — driven by the cheap, extraordinarily lethal opioid — has already rotted the Kingsbridge neighborhood in the north Bronx, which is where 1-year-old Nicholas Feliz Dominici died and three other kids were hospitalized after being exposed to the drug Friday.
“My heart breaks for this neighborhood,” Jorge Gonzalez, 62, told The Post on Monday, adding he’s “lived here practically all my life.”
“I saw it at its worst, when people were smoking crack in open view,” he continued. “I thought those days were long behind us. Now it’s back.
“Just walk down Kingsbridge Avenue when it’s not raining,” Gonzalez said. “You have to step over the people lying all over the sidewalk. You can’t believe it’s happening, but it’s happening.”
Abnar Reynoso, a 40-year-old father of three, said it’s been tough to watch his little sliver of the city slide downhill.
“Kingsbridge was never the best neighborhood, but people always had a way of keeping their dignity,” he said.
“When you see people splayed out on the sidewalks, you’re just like … really? The city’s just gonna let this happen?” he continued. “This is a health crisis. Just because it’s self-inflicted, it doesn’t mean it’s not a health crisis. Addiction is a disease and the enablers are enabling, and no one’s doing anything to stop them.”
It’s not just angry locals who say fentanyl has taken a tremendous toll on their neighborhood.
Police sources said the Bronx is dotted with drug mills — including the 52nd Precinct, where the drugged-up Divino Nino Daycare was located.
“Most of them go unnoticed because there isn’t a lot of traffic going in and out of the locations,” one Bronx cop said. “But they’re in apartments all over the area – and no one would ever suspect they were dealing in these deadly drugs.”
There’s little doubt the borough has been kneecapped by the widening epidemic, which has struck the Big Apple with unprecedented force.
In 2021, about 2,127 of the 2,252 opioid overdose deaths registered in New York City involved fentanyl – or more than 94%, according to a New York State Department of Health report.
Residents of the Bronx had the highest rate of fatal overdoses that year, at nearly 71 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to another report from the city’s health department.
The Bronx also has the highest percentage of drug poisoning deaths in the city, according to Frank Tarentino, special agent in charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York Division.
More than three-quarters are fentanyl-related, he said.
“It is imperative to warn New Yorkers that fentanyl is being mixed with all illegal drugs — cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin,” Tarentino told The Post Monday.
“It’s a big problem,” one police source said. “But no one seems to care.”
Ahmet Biberha, who has worked for seven years at his family’s business – Brother’s Pizza – just around the corner from the day care where little Nicholas died – said he’s seen drug use in the area increase drastically during that time.
“I see them bent over, slumped over, unaware of where they are,” the 23-year-old said. “It brings down the business. It brings down the whole area. Now babies are dying!
“Forget about the users — they’re grown adults, they made their own decisions. But cut that stuff up near a baby so that they breathe it in? That’s ridiculous. If this isn’t a wakeup call, I don’t know what is,” Biberha said.
“I don’t know what to say — fentanyl was the worst drug ever created,” another local man told The Post. “This might be a worse epidemic than crack. A family should not have to lose their child like this. All they did was bring him to day care.”
Additional reporting by Joe Marino and Desheania Andrews
Reuven Fenton, Larry Celona, Steve Janoski