Philadelphia police on Monday took into custody the father of a 3-year-old special needs girl who starved to death early Monday morning at a West Oak Lane home that investigators described as squalid and flea-infested.
Officers were first called to Albert Einstein Medical Center, where they found Nathalyz Rivera, 3, had been brought into the emergency room shortly before 2 a.m. and pronounced dead.
She weighed just 11 pounds and showed "obvious signs of neglect," according to Capt. James Clark of the Homicide Unit.
"This is one of the worst cases of abuse that I've seen in my five years down in homicide unit," he said.
"It's very sad and very disturbing. I saw the photos, and even for me, they were very difficult to look at."
The medical examiner ruled Rivera's death a homicide and determined its cause to be starvation.
The child's father, 30-year-old Carlos Rivera, was allegedly with his five children at their home on the 7300 block of Sommers Road when he around midnight found Nathalyz inside the bedroom.
Investigators said he noticed the child wasn't breathing.
"Instead of calling police or the ambulance, [he] called the mother, who was over a male friend's house," Clark said.
"The mom and friend came to the house, took the baby and transported her to the ER, where she was pronounced."
Investigators believe neglect is primarily to blame.
"The house was in such bad shape that we believe she had some bruises and things of that nature that may have been from fleas or insects or rodents biting her, but we don't believe there was any physical abuse at this point," Clark said.
He did note that, despite Nathalyz's "severe disabilities," she hadn't been taken to see a doctor or any medical personnel in over a year.
Both the child's mother and her male friend were on Monday being questioned by detectives, and Clark said he "fully expected" the mother would be charged in connection with the tragic death.
Carlos Rivera, who was wanted for questioning as a person of interest in connection with the case, allegedly took off about 1 p.m., dropping off his four other children – including the victim's twin brother – at the home of a family friend.
Those children – aged 9, 8, 7 and 3 – were hospitalized for evaluation and will then be remanded into the custody of the Department of Human Services.
Following a search for Carlos Rivera, police shortly after 5 p.m. announced he was taken into custody without incident at Front Street and Duncannon Avenue.
He is considered a person of interest in the child's death.