Mournful Day

10.27.12 3:10 PM ET

A New York Nanny Allegedly Kills Two Children and Neighbors Struggle to Understand

Neighbors, parents, shopkeepers, and nannies voice their sympathy even as they struggle to make sense of the deaths of the two New York City children that police allege were killed by their nanny. By David Freedlander and Eliza Shapiro.

Rima Starr lived two doors down, and remembered a family with three children who all used to pile into a single stroller for a trip to Central Park, their greyhound, Babar, in tow.

“They were all always so tightly together,” she said.

Yoo Park remembered last seeing Leo Krim a few weeks ago, when he came into Park’s basement tailoring shop to get fitted for an outfit for a wedding where Leo was to be the ring-bearer. The 2-year-old was squirmy and silly, and didn’t want to stay still while he was being measured and stuck with needles.

Charlotte Friedman remembered how the kids would turn around and say thank you whenever she held the elevator door—a sign, she said, that their parents had taught them well.

“They seemed nice, polite, sweet, well-mannered. I don’t know. They were just nice people.”

Lucia and Leo Krim were allegedly stabbed to death with a kitchen knife by their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, 50, on Thursday afternoon. NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly told reporters on Friday that police believe Ortega turned the knife on herself--stabbing herself and slitting her wrists--when Marina Krim, the children’s mother, entered the apartment. 

Outside of La Rochelle--the stately Upper West Side apartment building where Marina and her husband, Kevin, lived with their children Lucia, Leo, and Nessie--friends, neighbors, parents, and store owners tried to make sense of what had happened the day before.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 26: The building where two children were stabbed to death allegedly by their nanny in a family's Upper West Side apartment stands on October 26, 2012 in New York City. The New York Police department said that the children were discovered in a bathtub by their mother, Marina Krim.  Their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, 50, was lying unconscious nearby with apparent self-inflicted stab wounds. As the investigation continues no charges have been filed at this time.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The building where two children were stabbed to death allegedly by their nanny in a family's Upper West Side apartment on October 26, 2012 in New York City.

Starr, 63, a retired hospice nurse, had heard the screams of Marina Krim when she returned home with her 3-year-old daughter, wondering why Ortega hadn’t shown up at swimming practice, only to find the unimaginable.

Starr said she heard the super, who went with Krim to the apartment, yell out, “So you cut her throat! So you slashed her in the neck!” She saw Krim in the lobby afterwards, clutching her only surviving child, 3-year-old Nessie, as the mother wailed, “I will never speak to her again. I will never speak to her again. I need a doctor,” followed by a long and loud wail.

Friedman heard the screams too. She was the one to call 911.

“It was like a scream you never heard. She was screaming from some place else—it was almost not a human sound. That sound is not leaving my head.”

Ortega is in stable but critical condition on a respirator at Weill Cornell Medical Center. 

The nanny, neighbors said, was as friendly or affectionate as any nanny in a building full of them.  

Starr remembered getting snippy with Ortega one time when she left the clothes in the laundry too long. She could have snapped back but she didn’t, Starr recalled. Others said the same—that Ortega was friendly, happy, and affectionate, that there was nothing in her demeanor that would have hinted at the brutality of which she has been accused.

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At Central Park, where Ortega and Marina Krim would take the kids, nannies  watched over their own charges and talked of the tragedy.

"I was hoping it was just some crazy person who broke into the building,” said one, who would only give her name as Terry. “I still feel sick to my stomach. I would never live in that apartment again. Everyone is talking about this today."

At nearby PS 87, where Lucia, the oldest girl, went to school, school officials declined to comment. Two crisis counselors at the school confirmed to The Daily Beast that they had been called in earlier, and anxious parents stood around, whispering about the tragedy.

“She stabbed herself, right, Mommy?" one little girl said, walking out.

At the La Rochelle, flowers or teddy bears or hand-written notes piled up every few minutes at the entranceway where a doorman and a police officer stood guard. Some dropped off their offerings and quickly walked away. Others stayed for a while, bowing their heads in prayer.

“Things like this happen all the time, even in [an] affluent [section] of Manhattan,” said Jacob Hill, 46, who lives nearby with his 10-year-old daughter. He didn’t know the Krims, but he brought yellow flowers. He had known tragedy too—his sister had been murdered in a home invasion a few years before. The flowers, he knew, wouldn’t make it all right, but maybe they would help—a little, before things started getting worse again.

“Just like after 9/11, there was a backlash against Muslims, I am worried that there will be an angry backlash against nannies, or people from the Caribbean.”

“You try not to think about it every time you leave the house,” said one mother whose children go to school around the corner, and who had come to pay her respects. “Now you have to start thinking about it again, that something could go wrong with your kids if you aren’t there.”

Longtime residents of the Upper West Side, those who had lived through the bad old days of the '70s and '80s, said that they could remember a time when the neighborhood was in rough shape. But they could never remember anything this bad.

“It’s such a shock. Everyone is afraid,” said Michelle Dugour, 71. She stared up at La Rochelle, part of the gathering crowd of sidewalk onlookers. “How could anyone do something like this?”

She wasn’t alone. Tourists came up wheeling suitcases. A psychiatrist who had an office on the block tried to diagnose Ortega. Everyone searched for an explanation.

“What is happening in this city, in this country?” said Rose Mary Fagundes, 64. “We need Giuliani back. I love that man.”

Inside the building, a small boy, about the same age as the Krim children, could be seen playing in the window. Cartoons played on a TV in the corner, but the child just kept staring out at everyone staring back at him.

With additional reporting by Michael Daly