New Paltz Police Lieutenant Steve Osarczuk talks on his cell phone in front of 332 Route 32 North in New Paltz. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The death of a two-year-old girl, Asia Perez-Medina, this past Wednesday afternoon was ruled a homicide by late Thursday morning. The New Paltz Police Department (NPPD) initially responded to a “missing child” call at approximately 4:30 p.m. at 332 Route 32 North in New Paltz. When they arrived, “The aunt was holding the child and the uncle was standing next to her in the front yard,” said NPPD chief Joseph Snyder. According to the chief, the “child was unresponsive when the officers arrived.”

Because it was a death that “occurred outside of a hospital setting,” compounded by it being a young child with obvious injuries, the chief said that they immediately began an investigation into the death. “We have to treat a death as ‘suspicious’ when it occurs outside a hospital setting and given these additional circumstances,” he said.

Yellow police tape was quickly tied around the outside of the home, which is built into the side of a hill, with children’s toys seen in the backyard on top of the hill. The weed-strewn front lawn, the house and the back of the home were filled with investigators in plastic gloves gathering forensic evidence and looking for leads and clues. Across the street, in the parking lot of a boarded-up, abandoned road-house, the NPPD, along with the State Police and their forensic units, the County Sheriff’s Department and other enforcement agencies, set up a command center and continued to work around the clock for the next 48 hours.

On Thursday at approximately 11:45 p.m., after an autopsy on the child had been conducted, Chief Snyder issued another press release that stated that Dr. Michael Sikirica, who performed the autopsy, “determined the death to be a homicide due to blunt force trauma.”

The young girl, who the police believe to be from the Dominican Republic, had been visiting for several months in the area staying with various relatives, including her aunt and uncle at 332 Route 32 North. She was the youngest child of Katidy Medina and Cesar Perez, who were both notified by the NPPD and flew to the States, arriving in New Paltz Thursday evening. The chief said that he was attempting to give the parents “space inside of our station,” because every time they’d come in or out, they’d be surrounded by reporters and cameras. “You can imagine the emotional state they are in, and we wanted to provide them with some breathing room.”

Asked if the “blunt force trauma” could have been the result of a fall or accident, the Chief said, “The doctor who performed the autopsy did not believe the cause of death was accidental in nature. He concluded that it was a homicide.”

While the police conducted dozens of interviews focusing primarily on the aunt and uncle, they did not hold either one as a suspect. “We’re continuing the investigation; we’re conducting more interviews and re-interviewing people, following up on more leads, and waiting for the forensic reports to come in.” Although they were not present when the call was made, there are two other young children living at the house, according to the chief, both of “Duzine School age.”

Since a suspect had not been named and everyone the police had interviewed had been released, the New Paltz Times asked whether or not the community should be concerned. “Do we think there’s a mass killer out there? Absolutely not,” said the chief. “But I would urge all parents to take the same precautions they do with their children, and continue to do so.”

The chief could not go into any detail as to the specific types of injury or injuries that the two-year-old girl sustained that led to her death; nor could he discuss any particulars of the interviews, as that could “compromise our investigation.”

The NPPD, along with the State Troopers the County Sheriff’s Department, is also being assisted by the Ulster County District Attorney’s office. District attorney Holley Carnright was at the scene of the crime on Wednesday, talking with officers and investigators.

By Thursday evening, the police tape had been taken down, most of the black SUV forensic units dispersed and a group of what appeared to be family members was being led to the house by a police officer.

As of press time, a suspect had yet to be named and the NPPD had referred all calls to Carnright. “My office is working in conjunction with the State Police, the New Paltz Police and the Sheriff’s Department in an ongoing investigation into this criminal matter,” said Carnright on Tuesday afternoon. He added that he did not want to say “anything that could possibly compromise this investigation,” noting that it was “of an extremely sensitive nature” and that the death of the young girl was “tragic.”