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Deaths of 3 children found on Coney Island are ruled homicides

The deaths of three young children who were found unconscious along the water’s edge of Coney Island have been ruled homicides by the New York City medical examiner.

Officials said that Oliver Bondarev, 3 months old; Lilana Merdy, 4 years old; and Zachary Merdy, 7 years old, drowned.

Police found their mother, Erin Merdy, 30, soaking wet and barefoot on the boardwalk after a relative called 911 early Monday concerned that Merdy might have hurt the children. Merdy was with other family members but not her children, NYPD Chief of Department Kenneth Corey said.

Police eventually found her children along the shoreline. Despite efforts to revive them, they were pronounced dead at a local hospital.

No charges have been filed.

The city’s Administration for Children’s Services would not say whether the family had any history with child protective services.

“Our top priority is protecting the safety and wellbeing of all children in New York City. We are investigating this tragedy with the NYPD,” a spokesperson for the agency said in an email. 

Records show that Merdy was served an eviction notice for her Coney Island apartment just before the Covid-19 eviction moratorium expired in January. Those who knew the family said she appeared overwhelmed with the responsibilities of having young kids plus a newborn. 

Allen McFarland, the founder of the Coney Island Training Youth Silverbacks, a football team that Merdy’s 7-year-old played with for about a year, said Merdy pulled Zachary from the team several months ago.

Zachary Merdy.Courtesy Allen McFarland

“She kind of took him out abruptly,” McFarland said.

He described Zachary as a quiet kid who was always smiling. 

“Nice, loving, energetic,” McFarland said.

He said coaches went out of their way to make sure Zachary consistently made it to practice, frequently picking him up and dropping him off.

On long days when the team traveled to games, the coaches would feed kids breakfast and sometimes dinner. Zachary was always grateful for the meals, McFarland said.

“These kids got big appetites. Sometimes they want seconds. Sometimes they wanted even thirds. Zach was one of the kids that wanted seconds and thirds,” he said.

His mom went to only one or two games but was polite when she showed up, McFarland said. 

“She was very appreciative of us working with him, and she seemed excited to come. She was definitely excited about him wanting to be a part of football and actually sticking with it,” he said.

The team honored Zachary at its practice Monday, releasing balloons shaped like the number 15 — his jersey number.

“We said a prayer for him afterwards and closed the prayer with ‘Zachary, we love you,’” McFarland said. 

“It was very difficult,” he said. “A lot of kids were very spaced out in a sense. I tried to keep some normality and some freedom to allow them to just go play and play with freedom away from the circumstance, but a lot of them just took it very hard.”

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