New York authorities discovered a trap door containing bags of fentanyl inside a Bronx daycare centre where a toddler died and three others were sickened by opioid exposure last week.
The drugs were found on Thursday under a play area at the centre when detectives were executing a search warrant on the apartment. Apart from fentanyl, the deputies found other paraphernalia concealed by plywood and tile flooring.
Photos shared by police show bags full of powder, weighing about eight to 10kg inside the "trap floor", just a few steps away from a shelf of children's toys.
The discovery comes nearly a week after four young children attending the daycare were treated for opioid poisoning. One of the victims, 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici, is believed to have died from the exposure.
Daycare centre operator Grei Mendez and a tenant of the building Carlisto Acevedo Brito were charged with murder of "depraved indifference" in the boy's death.
“A grand jury has returned a true bill, meaning that they’re now indicted for various charges,” Bronx district attorney Darcel Clark said.
Prior to unearthing the fresh cache of drugs, police had already announced the discovery of a kilogram of fentanyl that was stored near mats that children used for sleeping.
Other devices used by traffickers for mixing drugs and pressing them into bricks were also found at the same time, the New York Police Department said.
Authorities said that Ms Mendez, 36, took steps to cover up the drug operation, shortly after realising that some of the children in her care were not waking up from their naps.
Before alerting first responders, she called her husband, who was seen on surveillance footage entering the building moments later, then leaving through a back alley with multiple shopping bags.
"All of that happened while the children, the babies, were suffering from effects of fentanyl poisoning and in desperate need of help," Manhattan US attorney Damien Williams said at a press conference.
During a federal court appearance in Manhattan, an attorney for Ms Mendez said she had no knowledge of the drug operation, while suggesting that her husband was responsible for the drugs.
The Divino Niño daycare started operating in January out of Ms Mendez’s apartment and was advertised for children between 6 weeks and 12 years old. It was licensed under the city’s Department of Children and Family Services and had passed all inspections without violations, including a surprise visit by city authorities on 6 September
Nicholas’s father Otoniel Feliz told CBS News that the little boy had been at the daycare centre for just a week. Mr Feliz said that the daycare had been recommended to him by the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center.
“We spoke to the ones who are in charge ... They recommended that place and apparently complied with all of the rules,” Mr Feliz said.
“We were on a waitlist for our son to qualify. Apparently, the place passed all of the inspections. Supposedly that apartment was only for daycares, but the rumor is, from what we have heard, they also rented rooms.”
“I love him, I miss him, I want him back – but there’s nothing that will give me back my son. When I came home from work and walked through the door, he’d say ‘daddy, daddy!’” Mr Feliz recounted to ABC7.