Mother Questioned After Deaths of 3 Children Found on Coney Island – The New York Times

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The children were found unconscious on Coney Island Beach after an emergency call early Monday morning. Their mother was discovered nearby, barefoot and “soaking wet,” the police said.
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It was just before 2 a.m. Monday when the call came in to the New York Police Department: Could officers check on a 30-year-old Brooklyn woman? A relative was concerned her three young children were in danger.
It took 90 minutes and another 911 call for the officers to find the woman — barefoot and soaking wet. She was with relatives at Brighton 6th Street and Riegelmann Boardwalk, said Kenneth Corey, the chief of department, at a Monday morning news conference.
The children, a 3-month-old boy, 4-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy, were not there.
It took another hour of searching by land, air and sea for officers to find them unconscious on the shoreline at West 35th Street, in Coney Island, about two miles from where they found their mother, Chief Corey said.
The children were taken to Coney Island Hospital, where they were pronounced dead, Chief Corey said.
Authorities did not identify the woman, but Derrick Merdy, a Navy veteran who lives in Norfolk, Va., and is the father of 7-year-old Zachary, said she was his ex- wife, Erin Merdy. He identified the other children, who were not his, as Liliana and Oliver.
Chief Corey said early Monday the children’s mother was being questioned, but was not in custody. By evening, police officials had not released any information about possible charges in the case.

When the mother was found, “she was wet, she was barefoot and she was not communicative to the officers,” Chief Corey said.
Mr. Merdy said his ex-wife’s relatives told him that she had brought the children to the water. Police investigators, he said, would say only that the children had drowned.
“All three of those children, not just mine, how could she just walk them out to the ocean and leave them there?” Mr. Merdy said Monday afternoon.
In an interview, Mr. Merdy said he first met Ms. Merdy on Facebook, and they married in 2014, he said. Zachary was born in March 2015, and the couple broke up bitterly soon after, Mr. Merdy said. He said he had been fighting for custody ever since.
“I was trying to get my son. Now that’s not going to happen,” he said, before breaking into sobs.
Mr. Merdy said Ms. Merdy was unreliable as he shuttled between Virginia, New York and a posting in Japan, often not appearing at designated places to hand over Zachary. He said the child would often come to him dirty, and without sufficient clothing for a visit. Zachary would tell him there wasn’t enough to eat where he was staying.
Mr. Merdy said Ms. Merdy kept his son in shelters, where he would go to the bathroom in a bowl. In a 2019 text exchange shared by Mr. Merdy, Ms. Merdy says she is thinking of giving up her rights to Zachary.
“I love him enough to let him stay with you or your mom because I want the best for him,” she wrote. “I want him to excel.”
Mr. Merdy said he started to become fully aware of what was happening in his son’s life when Zachary began to spend more time with him, when he was about 6. He recorded his son talking about his life with Ms. Merdy in an effort to further his bid for custody.
“She makes me starve,” Zachary told his father.
“What do you mean by that?” Mr. Merdy replied.
“I don’t know, she makes me starve,” Zachary replied. “I didn’t do nothing bad; she makes me starve.”
Mr. Merdy said his efforts to get help from authorities came to nothing.
“It didn’t matter how much I called child protective services,” he said. “They would tell me, ‘Oh, you don’t have any real evidence.’ But they didn’t do a real investigation.”
A spokeswoman for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services said the agency is investigating the deaths with the police department, but would not comment further.
It was unclear whether Ms. Merdy had a lawyer, and efforts to reach her mother and other relatives were unsuccessful Monday. At Ms. Merdy’s mother’s apartment, a woman said through a closed door that she did not want to talk to a reporter on Monday afternoon.
Dine Stephen, an aunt who lives in North Carolina, said in an interview on Monday that Ms. Merdy “was struggling and that was it,” declining to say anything else about her niece. Ms. Stephen didn’t know the details of what happened on Monday.
The search for the family in the misty early hours was a full effort by the police department’s 60th Precinct. Officers searched through streets, the boardwalk, the beach and Coney Island Hospital, Chief Corey said in the news conference. Sirens could be heard as lights flashed on the boardwalk where officers were administering CPR to one of the children in a video published by The New York Post.
Several hours later, it was quiet outside the family’s apartment at 3325 Neptune Ave., where officers walked in and out of the building throughout the morning.
Across the street, at P.S. 188, Alfred Brown, a cafeteria worker and coach for the Silverbacks football team at Coney Island Training the Youth, said Zachary was a bubbly child. Zachary was excited to get a championship trophy at the end of the last season, he recalled.
“He was always asking me, ‘Coach, you got my trophy? You got my trophy?’” he said.
Mr. Merdy said that the end of their visits, his son would say he didn’t want to go home. Mr. Merdy sent him anyway.
“I let him go back,” Mr. Merdy said, sobbing. “I should’ve went with my instincts.”
Kaya Laterman and Andy Newman contributed reporting. Alain Delaquérière contributed research.
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