A Brooklyn mother suspected of drowning her three young children at Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn, New York, on Monday, was struggling with mental health, was locked in a custody dispute with her ex-husband and facing eviction for $10,000 in unpaid rent.
Kenneth Corey, chief of department for the New York Police Department, said at a press conference that around 1:40 a.m. Monday, a relative called 911 and said she was worried that the mother, 30-year-old Erin Merdy, was going to harm her children: 3-month-old Oliver, 4-year-old Liliana, and 7-year-old Zachary.
“I believe she (the mother) had called them and made statements to that effect,” Corey said.
Police immediately launched a search of the mother’s apartment on Coney Island which they found unlocked. They also searched the surrounding neighborhood, the beach and the boardwalk where they found the mother with other relatives but the children were missing.
“She was soaking wet, she was barefoot and she was not communicative to the officers,” Corey said, according to an ABC News report.
After an intense search using NYPD helicopters and boats, Corey said the children were found lifeless near the sea at W. 35th Street near the boardwalk, about 2 miles from where the mother was found.
While Erin Merdy has no prior arrests or history of being emotionally disturbed, she has been involved in previous domestic incidents of harassment and aggravated harassment that did not result in charges, NYPD records show, according to ABC News.
Her family members told the New York Post that she had been grappling with her mental health and was facing eviction for unpaid rent for the $1,531-a-month apartment where she lived with the children.
In July 2021 she was served with an eviction notice months before New York state’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium expired in January, court records show.
Eddy Stephen told the NY Post that he knew his niece “did a little crazy stuff, but nothing that would lead to harming her children or herself.”
He told the publication he was “speechless” when relatives told him “Erin killed her three children.”
“She used to like to party here and there, do a little drinking, but I didn’t see any drug abuse or see that she was really irresponsible. It’s just tragic. I don’t know. She never gave us the sign that she would hurt her children. She loved her children,” he said.
Erin Merdy’s aunt, Dine Stephen, said her family has a history of mental illness and she was aware that she was struggling but didn’t know how badly.
“I knew she was struggling in the sense she was trying to find her way through life. In this family we do have a history of mental illness to varying degrees. A few of us have battled with bipolar disorder, but I didn’t know her mental struggles,” she said. “I just knew she was trying to find a way for her children, a way to get on her feet. … It was the mental issues that took over.”
Levy Stephen, another uncle of the struggling mom told the NY Post that his niece was also locked in a custody battle with 7-year-old Zachary’s father when the killings occurred.
“He had issues with the way she was raising the child, from what I understand,” Levy said. “She kind of went off the grid after that, changed her numbers. She wasn’t on social media — at least not to the point that I could find her.”
Derrick Merdy, a Navy veteran who lives in Norfolk, Virginia, and Zachary’s father (he is not related to the younger children), told The New York Times that he had seen signs that his ex-wife was unstable and incapable of caring for his son and that’s why he was trying to get custody of the child.
He said he met Merdy on Facebook and they married in 2014. Zachary was born in March 2015, but they broke up soon after Zachary’s birth. He said he had been fighting for custody of Zachary ever since.
“I was trying to get my son. Now that’s not going to happen,” the sobbing father said.
He explained that moving between, New York, Virginia and a posting in Japan, his ex-wife was unreliable when it came to handing over Zachary at designated places. He said Zachary would often come to him dirty, without sufficient clothing for a visit, and complained that he didn’t have enough to eat where he was staying.
Derrick Merdy alleged that his ex-wife kept his son in shelters where a bowl served as his son’s bathroom. He also shared a 2019 text where Erin Merdy said she was thinking of giving up her rights to Zachary.
“I love him enough to let him stay with you or your mom because I want the best for him,” Erin Merdy wrote. “I want him to excel.”
In a January 2016 post, Derrick Merdy’s mother, Basimah Merdy, doted on Zachary in a Facebook post and declared how much she loved her grandson.
Derrick Merdy and his mother did not immediately respond to calls from The Christian Post but he told The New York Times that it was not until his son turned 6 and began spending more time with him that he became more fully aware of what was happening. He recorded what his son told him as part of his effort to gain custody.
Zachary told his father that his mother “makes me starve,” and “I didn’t do nothing bad; she makes me starve.”
He told The New York Times that when he reached out to child protective services they gave him no help.
“It didn’t matter how much I called child protective services,” Derrick Merdy said. “They would tell me, ‘Oh, you don’t have any real evidence.’ But they didn’t do a real investigation.”
When CP reached out to New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services on Tuesday, the agency said it’s prohibited by law from sharing whether a family has a history with ACS or any case information.
“Our top priority is protecting the safety and wellbeing of all children in New York City,” a spokesperson said. “We are investigating this tragedy with the NYPD.”
Derrick Merdy said his late son would say he didn’t want to go back to his mother at the end of their visits but he sent him anyway.
“I let him go back,” the distraught father said, sobbing. “I should’ve went with my instincts.”
Erin Merdy was taken to the NYU Langone Hospital late Monday morning for a psychiatric evaluation. Detectives are now investigating whether postpartum depression played a role in the death of the children.
In a CP report last year highlight the growing public health crisis of suicides among new mothers, Jessica Greenhalgh, clinical director at Honey Lake Clinic in Greenville, Florida, agreed with researchers that there is a need for better understanding about the mental health challenges that come with motherhood, even among healthcare providers.
“I think that there are a lot of expectations that are often put on mothers that we don’t always recognize. A lot of times those expectations may be unrealistic, especially if no one knows what that person is going through. But there are not necessarily many places that specify for postpartum,” she said.
“I worked in a former place where they [some staff] attempted to create a partial hospitalization program specifically for postpartum depression and the engagement was lacking. And I think part of it is a lack of understanding of what it means to have postpartum.”
Greenhalgh said that when there is a “lack of recognition” or understanding, it can “lead to a feeling of being alone or being different, which also can increase the risk of worsening mental illness.”
There is no evidence suggesting Erin Merdy was receiving any kind of mental health care.
The Rev. Adriene Thorne, who serves as senior minister at First Presbyterian Church Brooklyn, and was previously executive minister of a 1,000-member church in the East Village of New York City, recalled how she experienced a brief moment of wanting to harm her child after giving birth, but because she had the right support she overcame that episode.
“I remember being on the balcony of my apartment holding my child. And I stepped out on the balcony and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I could just let her go.’ I was so freaked out that that went through my head that I just backed up into the apartment and I sat on the couch and I called my sister who is a mom of two,” she recalled. “And I was just sobbing. And I said, ‘this is what happened, this is what happened. What’s wrong with me?’ Because again, the culture says, this should be the happiest moment of your life.”
“I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t particularly tired. I just thought, ‘something’s wrong with me that I thought that’,” Thorne continued. “And my sister said, and this was very helpful, ‘It’s normal, Adriene. We all go through this. You didn’t let her go. So it’s OK.’”
In June of last year, another young mother, Dejhanay Jarrell, who lived alone with her 1-month-old and a 2-year-old child at a building on Rockaway Parkway in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, threw them out of a second-story window before jumping out of the window herself, ABC 7 reported.
All three survived, but Jarrell was charged with attempted murder. Several other stories highlight mothers jumping to their death with young children in New York City or other instances of maternal murder-suicides around the country.
“I think what works against women is a culture that says this is the best thing that will ever happen to you without also saying, there is a bottom to this. There is a dark side,” Thorne said. “There is an underbelly. There are hormones, fatigue. There’s moms not getting the help they need, lack of childcare.
“The fact is that we live far apart from our support networks — my parents are in D.C., I’m in New York so my mom had to make an effort to come help me. My sisters had to travel. We don’t live in family networks that would provide us with [what] the African proverb [calls] the ‘village’ to raise a child,” she said. “We don’t have that. And if we don’t have financial resources, particularly in a city like New York, where I live, you’re very much on your own.”