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Father was fighting for custody of son before boy’s death in Coney Island, friend says

CONEY ISLAND, Brooklyn (PIX11) – The father of a 7-year-old boy who died in an apparent drowning in Coney Island was fighting for custody of his son, according to a family friend, before the boy’s mother may have killed the child.

A 30-year-old mother was being questioned by police on Monday after her three children were found dead on a Coney Island beach early in the morning, authorities said.

The three children were found around 4:40 a.m. with apparent signs of drowning. Police were told the three children may have been harmed by their own mother and found her on a boardwalk in the middle of the night, soaking wet, officials said.

“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,” said NYPD Chief of Department Kenneth Corey.

The children were initially listed in critical condition, but all ultimately succumbed to their injuries, according to police. Officials later identified them as Zachary Merdy, 7; Lilana Merdy, 4 and 3-month-old Oliver Bondarev.

Lawrence Vactor drove up to New York City from Virginia with Zachary’s father on Monday. Vactor said the 7-year-old boy just spent the summer with his dad who was trying to get full custody of his son.

“He was fighting for his son. He’s always been fighting for his son,” Vactor said.

Zachary’s youth football coach remembered Zachary as a solid kid who was always smiling on the football field.

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“The biggest thing we always noticed when he took the contact, a lot of kids cry and shy away from the contact, so when he played it was like he was excited that that was what he really enjoyed,” youth football coach Allan McFarland said.

NYPD officials said there was no immediate indication of a prior history of abuse or neglect. The mother allegedly made statements to a cousin that she drowned her children and that she suffered from postpartum depression, something she may still be going through, sources told PIX11 News. 

“They were innocent angels. They didn’t have anything to do with what was going on,” Vactor said.

The mother was seen at the hospital for a psychological evaluation and was not talking to officers. She has not been charged.

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