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Haverhill girl stricken in Lawrence rooming house died of ‘acute intoxication’

Miguel Rivera during his arraignment.Amanda Sabga/Pool/Pool

The 11-year-old Haverhill girl who died last year after being stricken in her great-uncle’s apartment was poisoned by exposure to three drugs, including the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

The girl’s death certificate was amended on Feb. 27 after the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner concluded that she died from “acute intoxication” from fentanyl; amitriptyline, an antidepressant also used to treat insomnia; and cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxant.

The certificate, obtained Thursday by the Globe, shows the manner of the girl’s death could not be determined.

Miguel Rivera , 58, the girl’s great-uncle, is being held without bail while he awaits trial on several charges, including rape of a child with force and permitting substantial body injury to a child. Rivera has pleaded not guilty, and his next court date is scheduled for Wednesday in Lawrence District Court.

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Attorney John Morris, who represents Rivera, said his client “adamantly denies” harming his great-niece. A spokeswoman for the Essex district attorney’s office said Thursday there were no updates in Rivera’s case.

Rivera’s great-niece was named in earlier stories about her death, but the Globe began withholding her name in January after prosecutors filed the child rape charge.

Rivera has told authorities that early on Dec. 15, he was baby-sitting the girl and her 9-year-old brother at the Lawrence rooming house where he lived when he heard the girl “gasping for air” and saw blood coming from her mouth,” according to a police affidavit filed in court.

When Lawrence police arrived at the rooming house, Rivera grabbed a bag containing a yellow lollipop and said his great-niece ate one before she went to sleep, the affidavit said. At Lawrence General Hospital, the girl tested positive for fentanyl, according to the affidavit.

Morris said evidence turned over to him so far indicates investigators didn’t find fentanyl in the room where the girl was stricken. He said he didn’t know whether fentanyl was found in the common bathroom tenants shared at the rooming house.

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The girl was flown by rescue helicopter to Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where she died at 7 p.m. on Dec. 17, her death certificate said.

On Jan. 3, police interviewed her 9-year-old brother, who said Rivera gave him and his sister a red pill to swallow at bedtime, according to a report written by State Police Trooper Matthew Wilson. The pill came from a prescription-type bottle, the boy said during his interview, and Rivera gave it to the siblings for sleep.

Investigators later learned a pharmacy in Methuen dispensed a prescription for amitriptyline tablets to Rivera on Oct. 19, Wilson wrote. The medication can come in a red pill, Wilson’s report said.

Surveillance video from the rooming house shows Rivera made three trips to a common bathroom between 3:13 a.m. and 3:34 a.m. on the night his great-niece fell ill, the affidavit said. In reports, police wrote they believe the girl was in medical distress by 3:13 a.m., though Rivera’s 911 call was made 13 minutes later.

Rivera told investigators he flushed medications down the toilet during two trips to the bathroom, including the sleeping pills, police reports show. He denied giving the girl medication to sleep, saying, “he flushed the pills because he thought she took one but not because he gave her one.”

Rivera told investigators he didn’t tell doctors about the pills, police reports said.

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“I was scared,” Rivera was quoted as saying. “I was afraid.”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.