By ADAM SCHRADER, ELLEN MOYNIHAN and LARRY MCSHANE
Published in the New York Daily News on Nov. 9, 2017
Shocked parents joined disconsolate neighbors Thursday in wondering what went wrong inside a Harlem day care where a cheese sandwich killed an allergic 3-year-old boy.
“It’s just really sad,” said mom Emelyn Geronimo, whose 2-year-old son attends the Seventh Avenue Center for Family Services. “We’re going to have to be more careful and alert. We as moms bring our kids here trusting.”
Geronimo was one of several parents arriving at the shuttered building Thursday morning, only to learn that Elijah Silvera, age 3, died there last Friday.
None had any idea where to take their children after learning the program was closed.
The Silvera family said on a GoFundMe page that the boy, who suffered from a dairy allergy, was served the lethal grilled cheese sandwich despite the facility’s awareness of his potentially fatal food issue.
City officials closed the operation on Wednesday, five days after the heart-breaking death. The city Health Department was leading the investigation into the deadly mistake, officials said.
“The city is very committed to a very thorough investigation,” said Administration for Children’s Services Deputy Commissioner Lorelei Vargas.
Vargas avoided questions specifically related to Elijah’s death, declining to even indicate if there was an epipen inside the building. The center, in addition to the daycare, was home to a Pre-K program as well.
Neighbor Ruth Harris, who lives near the center, wanted better answers about the little boy’s tragic end.
“They should be shut down and and whoever is in charge of this program should face criminal charges,” said Harris. “I can’t even imagine what this family is going through.
“That poor baby. That poor family.”
A family friend and neighbor said the dead child’s parents were very careful about their son’s allergy, marking Elijah’s name on his lunchbox to prevent any mix-ups.
The boy’s mother “would take care of (him),” said the friend. “It’s such a terrible thing to happen to him, to happen to them.”
The Harlem facility was examined on Monday for health code violations, with city officials finding no problems. The facility is licensed for operation through Oct. 18, 2019.
Prior inspections in September 2016 and in August and September of this year produced no violations.
The last time problems emerged came after an October 2015 check, with the facility cited for two minor issues and one “critical” violation — a sink with hot water exceeding 115 degrees.
All three violations were listed as “corrected,” records show.
“I don’t know if this could be avoided, because we don’t know what happened,” said Vargas. “Once we find out what happened at this site, we’ll have a better sense.”
With GREG B. SMITH, BEN CHAPMAN