On March 7, Bernice was staying over with a friend who was living in the same building as the family, according to the toddler’s mother, Maurine Mirembe. Mirembe said that the friend who was hosting her daughter had called in the morning to let her know that Bernice had begun throwing up after breakfast.
“When I went upstairs, I found Bernice laying in a chair… she was so weak and when I checked her mouth it was gray,” Maurine told CTV at the time. “I even squeezed her middle finger to see if the blood was moving, but nothing.”
Bernice and the other child were rushed to the hospital. The friend eventually made a full recovery, but Bernice died shortly after being admitted, according to police.
A 45-year-old Toronto native, Francis Ngugi, was arrested and charged over the weekend. He faces two counts of administering noxious substances to endanger life, two counts of unlawfully causing bodily harm, and one count of criminal negligence resulting in death.
In a press release, Toronto police are alleging that the suspect accessed “a controlled substance from his place of employment,” which was then placed “into a children’s breakfast cereal” during the sleepover. Ngugi made his first court appearance on Sunday morning, and Toronto police have not yet released details on the motivation behind the attack, or the specific role Ngugi is suspected of playing in the death of the child.
“It’s a tragedy which I don’t want to remember… I only pray to God for Bernice to get justice,” Bernice’s father, who asked that his name not be mentioned in this story, told The Daily Beast. He described his daughter as “so friendly and loving.”
“What can I tell you about Bernice… she was so adorable, a baby everyone would like to have in life,” he told The Daily Beast. “A child any parent would be proud of.”
Bernice’s father shared video clips of the toddler with The Daily Beast, which show her dancing, singing, and waving at the camera with her mother.
In one clip, Bernice is shown curled up in a kitchen cabinet, clad in a Harry Potter Gryffindor shirt. “In this month u were born, u make my life complete, I treasure u,” he captioned the clip. In another video shared with The Daily Beast, the toddler is sitting on the couch, talking to her dad through the camera. “Hi Daddy, love you!” she says.
Following Bernice’s death in March, her mother had set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for the child’s funeral. Mirembe had wanted her daughter to be buried in her home country of Uganda.
“Three years ago, my daughter came into this world, a beacon of light, beautiful and shining bright… To all those who knew her, she was full of life, had lots of love to give and even more laughter to share,” Mirembe wrote on the page. “Sunday March 7th, 2021 may have been sunny for most, but for me it’s the day my baby breathed her last, left this World and moved onto the next.”
She added: “Here are so many questions and so few answers, this may not fix what’s forever broken inside of me, but it will be a start for me to get closure, until I can find out what happened to my baby.”