They had been cooped up inside the house all day, and the baby was getting restless. It was also getting hot inside the narrow two-story home. Dee, the mother, decided to get some fresh air in the park across the street. At first she and her child sat down on the sand under the slide, making the most of a little square of shade.
Then, in a quick gesture, the 11-month-old child removed his pacifier, picked up a blue substance that was on the ground, and put it in his mouth. It was ecstasy, a synthetic drug. The medical report described its specifically as methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, commonly known as MDMA.
Dee claims that when you are a Romanian living in Spain, not only must you be a decent person, you also have to prove you are one
Ever since the incident, which took place on August 24 in Perales del Río, an isolated neighborhood of Getafe, south of Madrid, the child’s parents have felt under suspicion. The hospital’s social services have investigated the family members. So did the police, which has sent the case to a court that will now decide whether or not to shelve it.
Dee, who sell cars online, and her partner Marian, a meat haulier who works for Madrid’s biggest wholesale market, Mercamadrid, are now very worried that the system could take away custody of their baby. Dee claims that when you are a Romanian living in Spain, not only must you be a decent person, you also have to prove you are one, especially after what happened to them.
Dee remembers that day with horror. When she realized that the child had something in his mouth, she put her fingers in and saw a trail of blue saliva. She returned home, where her husband was uploading car listings to websites. She, in the meantime, called the emergency services to ask what to do if her baby had eaten chalk, which is what she thought he had swallowed.
The parents were described as: “Mother: healthy, Romanian origin. Father: healthy, Romanian origin”
Her husband picked up the child and said: “Can you see how the boy is?” He was stiff. They rushed him to the nearest hospital, and stopped in front of the emergency room. Hospital staff administered intravenous medication, and tests confirmed intoxication with ecstasy. He remained in hospital for three days under observation, then was discharged with no adverse aftereffects.
The doctors also noted that the baby had received his mandatory vaccinations. “There are no signs of social exclusion, this is a healthy child whose health is being adequately seen to. The situation has been explained to the social worker team,” reads a hospital document.
But the discharge papers also talked about “social risk.” The parents were alarmed at that, and did not like the fact that they themselves were described as: “Mother: healthy, Romanian origin. Father: healthy, Romanian origin.”
Dee asked a doctor why they were underscoring the fact that they are immigrants. She was told that this is protocol.
As soon as they left the hospital, they went to the Getafe police station to file a complaint. Dee says that she found a hostile attitude. “And who do you want to file the complaint against, ma’am?” an officer asked her. “There is no guilty party.” She got angry and replied: “There is, whoever threw that drug down there, they’re the guilty ones, but that’s your job. I’m not going to bring you the suspect on a platter.”
A police officer was taking notes. When they were asked to sign the statement, the couple found discrepancies between what they’d said and what was in the document, including the claim that she’d “come running” when she saw the child putting something in his mouth, when in fact she’d been with him the entire time. Dee thought that one inaccurate word and the social services might accuse her of being a bad mother and take away her child.
At this point, she felt that her family’s future was at stake, in a language that was not hers. Besides feeling bad about her son’s experience, she now felt she had to defend herself, as though she were the suspect.
Dee shared her experience on a neighborhood group on Facebook, to alert other people about the risk. Many parents thanked her, but others seemed skeptical. One user even asked her to upload the hospital and police documents to prove her claim. Dee felt increasingly scrutinized by everyone.
The father made a video of the park to show the poor state it was in, with the ground covered with cigarette butts, bottle caps and leftover paper for rolling cigarettes. Several years earlier, when Marian and Dee had no children, they had often complained about a group of kids that would spend the night in the park. They were noisy, and Marian has to get up at 4am to go to work. Another neighbor says that those youths would sometimes bury packs of cigarettes that they did not want to bring into their own homes.
After trying to have kids for a long time, Dee finally got pregnant nearly two years ago. She says that the baby has given new meaning to their lives, and that they wouldn’t do anything to put him at risk. “It’s very sad, but the main thing is that he is all right,” she says.
Dee and Marian are collecting signatures from neighbors in case officials show up at their door one day to take their child away
After the police statement, they were visited by family officers who questioned them and left without giving them any explanations. They wondered why they themselves had not been tested for drugs, to prove that they were not addicts. They tried to get tested at a public hospital, but were given an appointment for two weeks down the line. So they resorted to a private health center, La Zarzuela, where they spent €500 on the tests.
The urine tests came out negative for the 10 most common drugs that are looked for, including the components of ecstasy. The couple took the results, and left them in an envelope at the police station, to be added to their case.
While a judge decides whether or not to proceed with the case, Dee and Marian have turned to their neighbors for support, and have found it. They are collecting signatures in case officials show up at their door one day to take their child away. They will not rest easy until the shadow of suspicion has cleared.
After finding out about the case, the city of Getafe sent out a street cleaner to the site, who spent several hours collecting trash in the park, said a municipal spokeswoman. Days after that, Dee and Marian conducted their own inspection, and found more remains of a blue substance similar to the one that their son had swallowed. The family alerted the authorities, who came back with the forensic police. Officers brought along trained dogs that found a trail, but no physical object that could be taken back to the lab for testing.
Slowly, families have been returning to the park with their children. They would like nothing better than to leave behind an incident worthy of a crime show such as CSI and go back to the normal routine of the playground swings.
English version by Susana Urra.