The Coney Island summer was over and the September rain falling when Erin Merdy walked toward the Atlantic Ocean in the darkness, her three small children in tow for the three-block trip.
The 30-year-old mother, recently hospitalized with post-partum depression, returned alone from the Brooklyn beach early last Monday after drowning the helpless siblings, including her 3-month-old son, just a short distance from the landmark Cyclone roller coaster.
Frantic cops arrived to find all three children unconscious and unresponsive, lying along the Brooklyn shoreline at 4:42 a.m. In a chilling detail, authorities allege mom Erin Merdy killed her 4-year-old daughter by holding the helpless girl beneath the waves, with the kids declared dead at a nearby hospital less than an hour later.
“Coney Island has had more than its share of tragedies, but I cannot think of another incident like this,” said longtime neighborhood resident Dick Zigun. “So sad … I know of nothing else so terrible in local history.”
The heart-breaking, headline-making triple murder was almost beyond comprehension, with few obvious red flags to the coming carnage. Merdy, though struggling with mental illness, had no history of abusing her kids and there were no reports of domestic violence involving her children, city officials said.
She was working as a home health care attendant until recently taking time off to care for baby Oliver, who died alongside 4-year-old Liliana and 7-year-old Zachary.
But one detail emerged, with The Daily News reporting Merdy “fell through the cracks” at the city Administration for Children’s Services — with the mother released from its care without a psychiatric exam two months before the killings despite mental health woes dating to at least 2019.
The first hint of the coming horrors came with a 911 call from Merdy’s sister expressing family concerns that the unstable mother had possibly harmed her kids based on unnerving text messages sent to relatives.
When police arrived at Erin Merdy’s Neptune Ave. apartment, the door was ominously unlocked and the home was empty. Gone along with the mother were all three of her children. A video uncovered later caught the foursome headed through the empty streets toward the sand.
Officers encountered one of the children’s worried father inside the building, with the dad sharing similar fears for the kids before directing the cops to the boardwalk. A neighborhood search began immediately, with police scouring the streets, the boardwalk and the beach. A check with a local hospital turned up nothing.
It was a harrowing 90 minutes later when a 911 call directed cops to the boardwalk in neighboring Brighton Beach, where the officers found the mom drunk and incoherent, said a police source. She was still wet from the water, barefoot and wrapped in a bathrobe.
“The babies are gone,” the disoriented Merdy had informed relatives, a message both cryptic and bone-chilling. She would tell later police of a dream where she walked the three children into the ocean, a tale sounding more like a nightmare.
The officers searching the beach were joined by harbor police and NYPD aviation as the frantic manhunt for the children kicked into gear, ending when the youngsters were discovered at West 35th St. and pronounced dead at 5:38 a.m. inside Coney Island Hospital.
Merdy was initially taken to the 60th Precinct stationhouse for questioning before her transfer to a Brooklyn hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
She was finally charged with the crime two days later, and faces three counts of murder for the killings of her innocent victims.
At her NYU Langone-Brooklyn arraignment, where Merdy wore a yellow hospital gown and whispered her responses with both eyes shut tight, a Brooklyn judge agreed when public defender George Cooke asked if his new client could remain in protective custody.
A day earlier, about 100 mourners gathered at the wake for Liliana and Zachary, where the siblings’ open caskets were flanked by star-shaped balloons inside the Caribe Funeral Home. The young girl wore a tiara on her head, while her brother held a toy car in his hands, as relatives and friends bid the pair their final respects.
The boy’s grandmother broke down while recalling Zachary as loving and “so special” during the tear-jerking sendoff. She offered words of love for Liliana as well.
Zachary had spent the past summer with his air traffic controller dad in Virginia as the father continued to wage a long and unsuccessful battle for custody of the child. A devastated Derrick Merdy, speaking after the wake, offered fond memories of a little boy remembered as imaginative, compassionate and sincere.
“There are no words that could … do him justice for what he really was,” said Derrick Merdy. “I can’t express it. Like you met my son, you’ll love him. To know him was a real privilege.
“In seven years, he changed my life forever. He really did.”