Deaths of children left in nanny's care send chill through working parents

 

New York

When Marina Krim found two of her young children fatally stabbed upon returning home to the family's Upper West Side apartment, their nanny alongside them, stabbing herself, the world of New York child care was instantly changed. As the news quickly spread, parents across New York City and beyond were shaken to their core.

For decades, the business of entrusting young children to a nanny has been a fraught yet informal affair for busy dual-career New York couples. No decision could be more important. Leaving children in the care of others tended to be a process that was patched together, word-of-mouth affairs with little more to guide parents than a wink of encouragement from a trusted neighbor.

Now, the wisdom and safety of that time-tested approach has been crushed. In neighborhoods, workplaces, and on blogs, professional and stay-at-home parents alike are questioning their path forward.

"I can imagine every mother who's heard about this is scared to walk out of their house today," said Lisa Berger, a married mother with a 6-year-old in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who has two jobs and works 60 hours per week.

"Everyone puts their children into the hands of others," Berger said. "Sure, you can run a background check and drug tests, but you can never determine how people are going to act in certain situations or know their breaking points."

Parents across the city are rethinking how they go about hiring nannies. Until Thursday, it used to go something like this: A neighbor lets it be known an excellent nanny is about to become available because the family she works for is being transferred to London. Another will be free next year because the child she has spent the last five years tending to is off to first grade.

Heather Stone, a stay-at-home mom with a 1-year-old son in Williamsburg, said she hired her caretaker after a 20-minute interview and a recommendation from a working mom. She trusts her nanny, she said, but the killings made her rethink how she approached the hiring process.

"Next time, I would definitely get more references," she said.

The fallout is likely to affect day care centers to which parents may turn in greater numbers. Lisandra Lopez, director at Mabel Barrett Fitzgerald Day Care Center in Manhattan, said the most common question she gets from parents choosing day care is how the staff are screened. They're concerned about the cooks and volunteers as well as the teachers. Anyone who works at her center gets background checks, Lopez said in an interview Friday.

"I'm a parent and a grandmother," she said. "If you're going to trust your child to anyone, no matter what the situation, that person should be screened, totally."

Some anxious parents are turning to a technological fix. Daniel McBride, owner of American Eagle Investigations, a Manhattan surveillance company, said he received three calls from parents before 9 a.m.

"One caller wanted everything possible, and others just wanted some advice," said McBride, whose company installs in- home security cameras that parents can monitor remotely. "It's a knee-jerk reaction, but they're practices people should think about before hiring."

Meantime, parents' groups are grappling to make sense of the tragedy. There's a feeling of solidarity among parents when such a tragedy occurs, said Leslie Venokur, the co-founder of Big City Moms, a social organization for working parents in New York.

"The whole mom community, we feel like we know each other and we know each others' kids," she said. "When something happens to a fellow young family, it feels like it's happening right in our back yard."

Online message boards for parents in the city such as UrbanBaby.com are filled with anonymous posts from parents angry and worried about the screening of caregivers.

"No one knows the background of what happened," Venokur said in an interview Friday. "It's bad enough for working moms where we have this guilt that we're not always there for our children, and then you throw this into the mix."

New York nannies are also grieving and say they worry that the tragedy will result in distrust from local families.

Cliff Greenhouse, president of the Pavillion Agency, a Manhattan group that places caregivers, said nannies have called him Friday to share their sadness over the tragedy and their worries about how it will tarnish their reputations.

"They're devastated because this is what they do, and they love what they do," Greenhouse said. "The nannies we're working with are doing this by choice."

Two-year-old Leo Krim and 6-year-old sister Lucia were found in a bathtub by their mother, Marina Krim, who returned to their home at about 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. The children had been left with their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega.

The children's father, Kevin Krim, worked at Bloomberg until last year when he joined CNBC as general manager for digital.

Oretga, 50, is in critical condition at New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and police haven't been able to speak with her, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said during a press conference at NYPD headquarters Friday. Possible charges have yet to be determined, Kelly said.

"It's difficult to say" whether police will be able to speak to the nanny today, because she is intubated and has cuts to her wrists and neck, Kelly said. "Obviously, it depends on a doctor's determination," he said.

Ortega, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and has lived in the country for about 10 years, Kelly said. She was referred to the family by friends and had been working for them for about two years, Kelly said.

She lived at another location on Manhattan's West Side with her son, her sister and her sister's daughter, Kelly said. The nanny's family is cooperating with police, the commissioner said.

There is no history of mental illness with the nanny of which police are aware and no domestic incident reports involving the woman, Kelly said.

The mother had gone to a neighborhood YMCA for swimming lessons with her 3-year-old daughter and was supposed to meet the nanny and the two other children at a dance studio later that evening, Kelly said.

When they didn't arrive, the mother went to the apartment and found her 1-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter clothed and in the bathroom with stab wounds, said Paul Browne, a department spokesman. When she entered the bathroom, the nanny began to stab herself, Browne said. When police arrived, the nanny was on the bathroom floor with a knife beside her.

Detectives met the children's father, who was on his way back to the city from a business trip, at John F. Kennedy International Airport and escorted him to the hospital, Browne said.

 

— With assistance from Chris Dolmetsch in New York.

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