As news about the death of two toddlers rocked his community, Charles Zsebedics knew there was more to the story — and it would be unpleasant.
Those suspicions were confirmed last week when the death of Olivia Gee, 2, and Micah Gee, 3, were ruled a homicide by the medical examiner’s office.
“Personally I didn’t want to think the worst of it,” said Zsebedics, the general manager of Amalgamated Housing. “Although the question was always there, because it doesn’t make sense how two children just die suddenly at the same time within minutes apart.”
During the early morning hours of July 10, Jade Spencer called 911 after discovering her two young children were struggling to breathe. When first responders arrived at their home at 98 Van Cortlandt Park S., shortly after, both toddlers had lost consciousness.
The siblings died just minutes apart after being rushed to Montefiore Medical Center. While early reports seemed to suggest the severe asthma both suffered from could have played a role, the chief medical examiner determined that both died from “blunt impact injuries” found on the torsos of Olivia and Micah.
This is the first homicide case for the 50th Precinct this year, and while the investigation is ongoing, no arrests have been made as of Tuesday.
Zsebedics has been the general manager of the Amalgamated co-op for the past six years, and has never encountered a tragedy like this. He knows the children’s grandmother, Doris Spencer, particularly well, as she has served as the education director for both the Amalgamated and Park Reservoir communities.
He met Jade Spencer and her two children several times when they would visit their grandmother, and although he did not know her as well as Doris, Zsevedics described Jade as a “very, very sweet girl.”
Since the deaths, the co-op community created a memorial outside of the Gees’ apartment building. There mourners have shared balloons, teddy bears, flowers, photos of Olivia and Micah, and cards blessing the family. Amalgamated already has put out two condolence books as well for neighbors to leave messages.
“Everyone wants to express in their own personal way their deep sorrow and condolences to the family,” Zsebedics said. “We have to wait to hear what the family wants and needs from us.”
The Amalgamated is the oldest limited equity housing co-op in the country, with 1,500 apartments and a waiting list as long as eight years to buy. Those who apply for residence must undergo a thorough background and credit check, including a home visit, before being allowed to join.
Many community members are moderate-income families, Zsebedics said. The familial atmosphere in the neighborhood is something that makes this tragedy all the more shocking.
“Nobody knows what to say anymore,” Zsebedics said. “Regardless of how justice is being determined, it still never brings back the life of these two children.”
Suzanne Sulzbach has been a longtime member of the community — her mother has lived in the neighborhood for the past two decades. Although Sulzbach was shocked by what happened to Olivia and Micah Gee, she still believes Amalgamated is a safe place to live.
“You just never know who your neighbors are,” she said. “You have to hope for the best.”