The father of one of the children drowned to death in Coney Island, New York beach earlier this week, says he never saw the tragedy coming, because he believed his daughter was in good hands in spite of his rocky past relationship with her mother.
His daughter Liliana, 4, alongside siblings, 3-month-old Oliver, and 7-year-old Zachary — were discovered unresponsive around 4:40 a.m. along the shoreline at West 35th Street, just three blocks from their mother’s apartment, authorities and law enforcement sources said.
Erin Merdy, 30, told relatives she “drowned all three kids,” and she was later found walking along the beach barefoot and in a robe, appearing “despondent,” cops and sources said.
“The mother was soaking wet,” NYPD Chief of Department Kenneth Corey said at a press conference. “Whether she had been out in the rain or whether she had been in the water, again, is all speculative at this point. She was wet, she was barefoot, and she was not communicative to the officers.”
“Brokenhearted is one way to put it, but it’s far more than that,” Small, who did not father the other children, told the Daily News on Wednesday night September 14.
“At one time, she was a great mother who loved her kids,” Shamir Small said of his ex-girlfriend Erin Merdy, who was charged with murder on Wednesday.
“I didn’t see this coming. This is a complete shock.”
The city Administration for Children’s Services was looking into Merdy as recently as mid-July, but the case “fell through the cracks” a source told The News.
Merdy was initially taken to the 60th Precinct for questioning and then carted off on a stretcher to NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn, according to sources and exclusive Post photos and video.
“We’re devastated. They were kids. They were adorable kids,” said Dine Stephen, Merdy’s aunt.
“It’s someone who was struggling, and no one knew how bad the struggle was.”
Stephen said Merdy’s family has a history of mental illness and her niece was “struggling” as “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. I just knew she was trying to find a way for her children, a way to get on her feet,” said Stephen.
“She loved her children. She loved her children very much. It was the mental issues that took over.”
Liliana was Small’s youngest child. Merdy gave her maiden name of Stephen to Liliana, according to Small.
“She was the baby. She was the youngest of my four,” he lamented.
Liliana spent weekends with Small, but he hadn’t seen Merdy in years since the girl’s grandmother was the one who used to drop her off at his home.
“I just don’t know what happened. Me and her didn’t have the best relationship,” Small said of Merdy. “When it was great, it was great. But when it was bad, it was bad.”
Small who works as a MTA bus operator, said he recently spent time with his daughter over Labor Day Weekend.
“She was definitely a daddy’s girl,” he said of Liliana. “She would wait for me to come home from work. The last thing we did together was watch JoJo Siwa. She loved her music videos.”
He recalled Liliana as a “bossy, fun” child.
“She loved to laugh and she loved to dance,” he said.
Small knew little about the other young victims, but recalled Oliver was his father’s first child.
“She loved her father,” he said of Liliana. “I’m 100% sure Oliver was loved by his father.”
An intensive search for the mother and the kids began about three hours before the children were found on the beach, when a relative called police, expressing fears that the mom might have harmed the children.
Police responded to the family’s apartment on Neptune Avenue near West 33rd Street around 1:40 a.m.
Distressing photos show first responders running through the sand and on the boardwalk, carrying the lifeless children in their arms.