HARLEM, Manhattan — The death of a baby boy in Harlem remained the subject of an active NYPD investigation Tuesday, two weeks after 8-month old Kehlian Valdes was found unresponsive in his mother’s apartment on St. Nicholas Avenue.
The March 30 death of Valdes has raised questions about the decision by a Family Court judge to allow the baby to live with his 26-year-old mother, who had five older children removed from her care in the last six years due to substance use and mental health issues.
“She said, ‘He suffocated,'” recalled Carol King, the mom’s neighbor who watched the child for long stretches of time, according to investigators. “I said, ‘Suffocated? How did he suffocate?’ She said, ‘wrapped up in a blanket.'”
The Administration for Children’s Services was monitoring Valdes and his siblings. The mother had been taking parenting classes before getting custody of the boy last summer.
“How could they do that?” asked Mayuli Aviles, the baby’s grandaunt, who has custody of the mother’s four, oldest children. A foster mom has the fifth baby. “If they removed five, they’re going to allow her to have one?”
According to King and her daughter, Desiree Dixon, Valdes’ mother often dropped the baby off for child care, when she felt emotionally overwhelmed.
“She told my mom she was alone,” Dixon said, “She didn’t really have anybody.”
Dixon and her mother delighted in taking care of Valdes and recorded cellphone videos of his milestones.
“Crawling, I’m crawling,” Dixon said in one video, as she knelt on the floor next to the smiling baby boy. “Show us those teeth.”
“He was the most beautiful baby ever,” Dixon told PIX11. “He had a beautiful laugh. It was so contagious.”
Dixon said she and her mother tried to help the baby along in his development.
“He was a little late, but he was learning and he was catching on fast,” Dixon said. “And he was starting to make sounds and trying to talk.”
King said she’d been watching on an emergency basis earlier this year in her sixth floor apartment, until the baby’s mother suddenly showed up at her door in late February.
“And she said, ‘I’m coming to get him, Ms. Carol,'” King remembered. “ACS is giving me a second chance.”
Although the mother regained custody, King and Dixon said she often brought the baby back to their home to stay for extended periods. They said Valdes’ mom picked him up the last time on Monday morning, March 29.
The next night, on Tuesday, March 30, an ambulance was summoned to the mother’s apartment at 182 St. Nicholas Ave. Paramedics found an unresponsive 8-month-old baby.
The NYPD told PIX11 Valdes’ mother rode to Harlem Hospital with him, and the baby was pronounced dead. A police source said cops found it suspicious that the mother left the hospital, as detectives arrived.
The source said investigators later found the mother at a Harlem hotel on 145th Street.
The Office of Chief Medical Examiner issued a statement when we called about Valdes’ case.
“The cause and manner of death are pending further studies,” the ME said.
Cops refer to the Valdes investigation as a CUPPI case: an acronym for the phrase “Cause Undetermined Pending Police Investigation.”
When PIX11 called the Administration for Children’s Services seeking an interview, we were told that ACS is prohibited, by law, from sharing whether a family has a history with ACS.
“Our top priority is protecting the safety and wellbeing of all children in New York City,” ACS said in a statement. “We are investigating this case with the NYPD.”
While the investigation continues, the baby’s body remains at the city morgue.
His grandaunt, Mayuli Aviles, wanted to claim the child to have a proper funeral. She told PIX11 she had already bought a suit for the baby to wear.
The aunt said Valdes’ oldest sibling, a 9-year-old sister, had been worried about her brother in recent months. She was devastated when she learned the baby had died.
“All I told her is that God wanted him, so he took him,” Aviles said. “And now, he became your angel.”
The two babysitters and aunt told PIX11 they had already been interviewed by investigators at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Anyone who had contact with the child in his final days and hours would be a person that police want to talk to. They will also want to know about anyone who was in or out of the mother’s apartment.
The aunt said it was time for Valdes’ story to be told.
“I’m going to get justice for this little kid,” the aunt continued. “Somebody is going to have to pay for his death.”