December 3, 2023

Child Phoenix Castro wasn’t respiration when a San Jose Fireplace dispatcher’s voice crackled over their radio system at 10:11 a.m. on Could 13.

The message was brisk: “CPR is in progress. The three-month-old feminine is unconscious….”

By the point neighbor Nancy Wetherington noticed what was taking place, the infant was mendacity on a white ambulance stretcher. Her tiny fingers and ft have been already grey.

“You would inform from the colour – you would inform that the infant was gone,” Wetherington mentioned this previous week, her voice cracking.

Exterior the gathering of triplexes off Blossom Hill Street in south San Jose, the infant’s father was sitting on the bottom, neighbors mentioned, crying so exhausting his eyes have been puffy and practically shut.

The mom was pacing and repeating, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Within the weeks that adopted, the daddy informed neighbors that his little one died from sudden toddler dying syndrome. However for neighbors who had witnessed repeated interventions from police and visits from little one protecting service staff who had taken away the couple’s 3- and 4-year-old kids a yr earlier, there have been robust suspicions that one thing else killed child Phoenix.

Child Phoenix Castro was solely 3-months-old when she died of fentanyl and methamphetamine poisoning on Could 13. (Courtesy of Edward Morillo) 

Nonetheless, they have been shocked after they discovered what the coroner had discovered: the toddler with chubby cheeks and sage inexperienced eyes, the infant too younger to eat strong meals, had overdosed on fentanyl and methamphetamines. She was carrying a pink-flowered onesie when she died.

On the kitchen counter, police mentioned they discovered her child bottle alongside damaged glass pipes, aluminum foil and the highly effective opioid that final yr killed greater than 6,000 Californians.

“There’s no purpose why this child needed to die,” mentioned Wetherington, one of many neighbors who mentioned she referred to as police to emphasise her considerations shortly after officers had visited the home when the infant was lower than a month previous. “CPS or police or somebody ought to have stepped in and brought this child. How did this child skate by means of, an attractive child lady?

“The newborn needs to be alive.”

As an alternative, 5 months later, the daddy, David Castro, is in jail on felony little one endangerment prices. And, in a surprising reminder of the stranglehold that fentanyl has on its customers, the mom, Emily De La Cerda, died the identical method her toddler daughter did. She overdosed on fentanyl.

Risking security of susceptible kids

Now, within the aftermath of the dual tragedies, questions are being raised about how Santa Clara County’s Division of Household and Youngsters’s Providers might have missed warning indicators that the infant was in peril, and whether or not an emphasis on protecting households collectively is risking the protection of susceptible kids.

What selections social staff made within the weeks main as much as Phoenix’s dying are nonetheless unclear. After inquiries from the Bay Space Information Group final week, the county mentioned it could examine what went improper and referred to as on the state to take action as properly. Officers acknowledged the company had “important involvement” with the household, however they’ve but to launch intently guarded data that would present solutions. San Jose Police mentioned they couldn’t talk about the case as a result of the investigation is ongoing.

“For each little one that’s useless, what number of kids are left in very harmful, or excessive threat conditions?” requested Steve Baron, a member of the Santa Clara County Baby Abuse Prevention Council.

Maintaining households collectively is an ‘idealistic aim,” he mentioned, however social service businesses are “rolling the cube on the protection of the kid.”

‘Tremendous excited’ over being pregnant

Emily De La Cerda, 39, was newly pregnant final yr when she handed Nancy Wetherington on the trail lining the complicated’s communal garden.

“She was tremendous excited,” Wetherington mentioned, and appeared wholesome, not “tremendous skinny” as she had been lately. Her coloration was good and she or he wasn’t “all spaced out” as she generally appeared.

Emily De La Cerda, 39, died of a fentanyl overdose four months after the death of her baby, Phoenix Castro, on Sept. 16, 2023. (Courtesy of Edward Morillo)
Emily De La Cerda, 39, died of a fentanyl overdose 4 months after the dying of her child, Phoenix Castro, on Sept. 16, 2023. (Courtesy of Edward Morillo) 

However regardless of appearances, there have been issues with the being pregnant. Phoenix was uncovered to methamphetamine and fentanyl within the womb, based on her post-mortem. On Feb. 12, her supply was sophisticated by “neonatal opioid withdrawal signs.”

Shortly after the delivery, Castro, 38, informed one other neighbor, Sandra Mack, concerning the issues when he got here to bum cigarettes. Authorities despatched De La Cerda into rehab, Mack mentioned, and the infant house with the daddy.

“I used to be over there nearly each evening,” Mack mentioned, altering diapers, giving Phoenix a bottle of components, offering emotional assist for Castro who typically slept on the sofa subsequent to the infant.

“She by no means cried, by no means cried,” Mack mentioned. “She was lovely.”

The mom, for all her issues, was sort, Mack mentioned, and had “the softest soul.”

Castro, who stayed house with the infant, was attentive and doing one of the best he might, she mentioned. He had battled most cancers that resulted in a few of his toes being amputated, she mentioned, and he was practically blind in a single eye.

To attempt to get his 3- and 4-year-old kids again, he informed neighbors he was taking parenting courses. He constructed little electrical automobiles they may journey.

After Phoenix was born, Mack mentioned, De La Cerda was allowed to come back house on weekends so long as she returned to the drug program in a single day.

However at house, Castro – who court docket data present had a decade-long historical past of drug arrests – was nonetheless utilizing medicine, based on messages and video obtained by investigators after Phoenix’s dying. Mack inspired him to cease for the sake of the infant.

“You’ll be able to’t do that with a child,” she mentioned she informed him. “He was open with me about it. He let me know he was hooked on fentanyl and he’s been doing it for a very long time.”

She didn’t perceive how social providers allowed the infant to be in his care.

“That doesn’t make any sense to me. For those who can’t maintain one little one correctly, how are you going to maintain any correctly?” she requested. “I simply thought that was absurd.”

The day the infant died, Mack mentioned, De La Cerda and her mom Rita, had a pre-planned go to – the day earlier than Mom’s Day.

Mack was sleeping on the time, however awoke to a “blood-curdling scream.”

A second tragedy

Child deaths from fentanyl are exceedingly uncommon. Over the past 20 years, simply over 100 infants youthful than 1 have died. It’s unclear precisely how Phoenix ingested the medicine, however fentanyl is available in powder, liquid or tablet kind and may be smoked. The mom wasn’t nursing, prosecutors and kin say.

Within the days after the infant’s dying, neighbors say the couple — who first met at an dependancy assembly — was again on the condo collectively. They’d spot Castro leaning towards a lamp submit smoking. De La Cerda appeared “numb.”

4 months later, on Sept. 16, dispatchers obtained one other name from the identical deal with on Spinnaker Walkway. This time it was for a 39-year-old feminine who was “not awake, not respiration, overdosed on fentanyl.”

Paramedics tried to revive De La Cerda with CPR and the overdose-reversing remedy Narcan.

However she was pronounced useless at 3:44 p.m.

In a remark to the Bay Space Information Group, De La Cerda’s mom Rita tried to sum up the household’s loss.

“My daughter was an attractive particular person and she or he was devastated over the dying of her treasured child lady Phoenix. A mom ought to by no means need to bury their very own little one.”

‘Don’t know the best way to assist him’

One month later, one final time, San Jose police returned to condo No. 3.

This time, neighbors say, they have been armed with rifles and busted by means of the entrance door. They handcuffed Castro and arrested him for the dying of his toddler daughter.

There, in the identical condo the place mom and little one each died of fentanyl overdoses, police mentioned they discovered but extra medicine.

David Castro, 38, was arrested on October 20th after his 3-month-old baby girl Phoenix Castro died of fentanyl poisoning back in May. (Courtesy of San Jose Police)
David Castro (San Jose Police) 

Castro tried to chop again on fentanyl, his neighbor Mack mentioned. However “he couldn’t management it. He couldn’t cease it,” she mentioned. “Now he doesn’t care anymore. And I don’t know the best way to assist him.”

On Friday, in courtroom 43 of Santa Clara County’s Corridor of Justice, Castro appeared in a wheelchair to face felony and misdemeanor prices.

De La Cerda’s mom and several other different kin attended. Her uncle, Edward Morillo, mentioned the compounded household tragedy has been a nightmare, and he questioned how county social staff didn’t do extra to guard child Phoenix. Which may have saved her mom too.

“She might nonetheless be alive,” he mentioned. “They might each be alive.”

Learn how to get assist

To get assist with substance use, name 211 — the United Means Bay Space substance remedy hotline — or go to