The announcement came a day after the New York City chief medical examiner’s office ruled the cause of death as intentional drowning.
Police responded to a 911 call just before 2 am Monday by a family member, who was concerned about the children’s safety. Authorities found Merdy barefoot, soaking wet and uncommunicative, along with family members, on Coney Island’s boardwalk, before later finding the children “unconscious and unresponsive” two miles away by the shoreline, police told The Washington Post.
The children were later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Family members reached by The Post said they were still recovering from the shock of the news.
“No one expected this. No one saw this coming,” said Dine Stephen, 51, who said she was the mother’s aunt.
Eddy Stephen told The Post that the incident was a “tragedy.”
“We are mourning — three young children,” said Stephen, who said he was the mother’s uncle. “We are praying for our niece.”
The family member who called 911 told authorities that she was concerned about the children’s safety, said Kenneth Corey, NYPD chief of department, during a Monday news conference. “I believe she had called them and made statements to that effect,” he said of the mother, adding that the family had no prior reports or known history of abuse or neglect.
After the call, police were dispatched to the Brooklyn apartment where the mother and children lived. The father of one of the children was in the apartment building and told police he had “similar concerns” about the kids’ safety and “said that he believed that the woman and the children were on the boardwalk here in Coney Island,” said Corey .
For the next 90 minutes, officers searched the streets and beaches for the woman and three children. Then, another 911 call came in at 3:13 am, which directed police to Brighton Beach, two miles away, where the mother was found with several relatives, Corey said.
Police said that’s when the search intensified, with authorities employing sea, land and air crews. At 4:42 am, Corey said, the children were found unconscious about two miles from the mother’s location — less than a mile from their Brooklyn home.
Police lights flashed and sirens wailed as officers desperately tried to revive the children, a video published by the New York Post shows.
“The officers immediately initiated lifesaving measures, including CPR, on the children, and they were rushed to Coney Island Hospital, where they were regrettably pronounced deceased,” said Corey.
The siblings’ deaths have reverberated deeply in their community.
Alfred Brown, who was Zachary’s football coach at school, described the boy as “full of life. Just full of energy, you know you’d have to say ‘enough, enough,’” Brown told the New York Post.
Fellow coach Allen McFarland said Zachary loved playing football. Hours after his death, the team organized a final goodbye for the 7-year-old player, according to the New York Post.
Late Monday, balloons carrying his jersey’s number, 15, flew over Coney Island as his teammates yelled, “Zachary, we love you,” the paper reported.