Fremont mom charged after powerful opioid kills son, 10 days shy of 2nd birthday
FREMONT — Kristofer Ferreyra was 10 days shy of his second birthday last month when he ingested fentanyl and became the Bay Area’s latest child victim of the deadly opioid, according to Fremont police.
Phoenix Castro, who died of a fentanyl overdose in San Jose last spring, was only 3 months and 1 day old.
Parents sobbed over tiny caskets in each case. In each case, a parent with a drug problem is now in jail, facing charges that they are to blame for their babies’ deaths.
“Everyone is grieving,” said one of Kristofer’s uncles on Wednesday, a day after the toddler’s mother, Sophia Gastelum-Vera, was arrested at her Fremont home.
On his mother’s Facebook page late last month, she posted an invitation to his rosary, viewing, and funeral at a time when he should have been trick-or-treating. The message included a photo collage from his brief life. “God’s Little Angel,” it declared.
Gastelum-Vera, 26, was arrested and taken to Santa Rita jail a week later. Three other kids are still at home.
As the number of fentanyl-related child deaths in the Bay Area rises, the drug’s powerful force is shattering families and putting everyone who is trying to protect innocent children, from relatives to police to child-welfare workers, at its mercy.
“I know the parent wouldn’t want it to happen,” said Gastelum-Vera’s neighbor, Brian Kinder, who overcame his own drug addiction years ago. “They don’t want their child to die, but one mistake and your life is over.” It only takes one small step.”
According to experts, the potency and popularity of fentanyl helps explain the recent spate of infant deaths in the Bay Area region. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, and experts say it is increasingly being sold and used in family homes, where infants may be exposed.
Kristofer and Phoenix are the most recent additions to a bleak and growing list of Bay Area infants exposed to fentanyl while under the care of a parent.
Jasani Kerry, 2, died in 2020 after being exposed to fentanyl that had been left around his Brentwood home. Genesis Barrera-Galdamez, his mother, was arrested and charged with murder before pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Francesca Pittman, a one-year-old girl from Livermore, died of apparent fentanyl poisoning while at home with her father, Justin Pittman, who was later charged with murder. He has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.
In May, the same month that baby Phoenix died in San Jose, paramedics in Oakland saved the life of an infant girl after her mother allegedly left fentanyl in a readily accessible area of their home. The mother of the girl was later charged with felony child abuse and pleaded not guilty.
The recent surge in child fentanyl deaths is “absolutely devastating,” according to Dr. Jamie Chang, a UC Berkeley associate professor of Social Welfare whose research has focused on the Bay Area’s fentanyl impact.
“It’s indescribable that children…. “At such a young age, we have become victims of this crisis,” she explained.
According to one study published in JAMA Pediatrics this May, approximately 340 children under the age of five died in the United States from 1999 to 2021 as a result of fentanyl poisoning, with 105 of them being under the age of one.
The number of children under the age of five who have died as a result of fentanyl poisoning has increased sixfold since 2018.
According to court records, the families in the two most recent Bay Area examples struggled with domestic violence. And both sets of parents have other children with uncertain futures.
According to neighbors, Kristofer was the youngest of four children shared by Gastelum-Vera, 26, and Christian Ferreyra. According to court records, the family lived together in a house on Gina Street in Fremont until last year, when domestic issues and a restraining order filed against the father drove them apart.
Neighbors claim that police had been to the house at least once before the toddler died.
Kristofer was discovered unresponsive in his home on October 18. He died after being rushed to the hospital. According to police, toxicology results confirmed a high level of fentanyl in the toddler’s system. Police later discovered evidence of illicit drug use at the family’s home, as well as fentanyl-related messages on the mother’s electronic devices.
Gastelum-Vera was held without bail at the Santa Rita Jail on Wednesday after being charged with murder and child abuse resulting in death.
Although the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office had not filed charges in the case as of early Wednesday afternoon, she is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning.
Gastelum-Vera’s grandfather, who was at the home he rented to Kristofer’s family on Wednesday, said everyone was devastated.
“He was a sweet little boy,” said the great-grandfather, who did not want to be identified. “I wanted the best for him.”