Derrick Merdy mourned his only child, 7-year-old Zachary Merdy, as a “magnificent person sent by God” on Wednesday, just hours after his ex-wife, Erin Merdy, was charged with murder for the death of the boy and his two siblings who drowned on Monday at Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn, New York.
“To some he was a happy high energy loving kid, grandson and family member, truth is, he was all of those things and much more. He was my only child, my heartbeat, and the most devoted and loving person I have ever had the pleasure of being around,” the grieving father wrote in a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $15,000 to cover Zachary’s funeral expenses.
“He was such a magnificent person sent by God. He had a smile that could light up any room and truly liked people. Zachary was incredibly imaginative, compassionate, and sincere,” he added.
A law enforcement official told CNN Wednesday that Erin Merdy was charged with three counts of second-degree murder, three counts of depraved indifference to human life, and three counts of murder, with the victims being younger than 11 years old.
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 Derrick Merdy’s ex-wife would harm her children: 3-month-old Oliver Bondarev, 4-year-old Liliana Merdy and 7-year-old Zachary.
Police immediately searched 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 was not officially diagnosed with a mental illness at the time of her arrest, family members said she had been struggling with her mental health and was locked in a custody battle with her ex-husband and facing eviction for $10,000 in unpaid rent.
Derrick Merdy, who lives in Norfolk, Virginia, told The New York Times that he had seen signs that his ex-wife was unstable and not treating his son well. When he reached out to child protective services, however, 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.”
A law enforcement official who spoke with The New York Times anonymously said that ACS found evidence in 2020 to support a claim of neglect or abuse against Erin Merdy. An ACS employee further told the publication that the agency did not file a petition in family court against Erin Merdy, which is required to seek court-ordered supervision of the family or removal of children from her custody.
Shamir Small, the father of 4-year-old Liliana, told the New York Daily News that he thought his daughter was safe even though he never had the best relationship with Erin Merdy, who is described as his ex-girlfriend.
“At one time, she was a great mother who loved her kids,” Small said of his ex-girlfriend. “I didn’t see this coming. This is a complete shock.”
Small, an MTA bus operator, said Liliana was the youngest of his four children who “loved to laugh and … loved to dance.” He said it had been years since he saw Erin Merdy because it was her grandmother who would take the child to his home.
“I just don’t know what happened. Me and her didn’t have the best relationship,” Small said of Erin Merdy. “When it was great, it was great. But when it was bad, it was bad.”
He said Oliver was his father’s first child, and he is “100 percent sure Oliver was loved by his father.”
In his GoFundMe campaign message, Derrick Merdy said he would cherish all the memories he had of Zachary and thanked everyone who offered support in helping him to bury his son.
“My dearest son was stolen from us on September 12, 2022, when he was just 7 years old. We won't let the world forget the vitality and light that Zachary left behind in the memories we cherish. His bodily existence among us had to end abruptly, the cosmos decided,” Derrick Merdy wrote on behalf of his extended family on the GoFundMe campaign.
“We sincerely thank everyone who has given Zachary, our darling son, their thoughts, prayers, and nice words. Please assist us in reaching out to our hearts so that we can bury him in peace.”