When Lydie Lavenir awoke from her nap, something wasn’t right: Enora, her normally energetic 19-month-old toddler, was not up from her slumber.
“Enora’s dead,” Lydie screamed, her voice carrying through the four-bedroom, two-bath lake house in Wellington, Fla., that the family had rented in August 2021. Enora’s face was blue, and there was a white foam seeping from her lips. The family scrambled to call 911. It was too late. An autopsy by the Palm Beach County medical examiner and an independent toxicology report would later reveal that the baby’s system contained a lethal amount of fentanyl, a drug the family visiting from Guadeloupe had never heard of or realized could have been a danger.
“It’s like we fell into a trap,” Enora’s father, Boris, told The Washington Post in French.
No one knows how little Enora got hold of the synthetic opioid, which has besieged the nation’s drug supply and is so potent that a small amount can kill. Investigators were not able to find any evidence of the fentanyl anywhere else in the vacation rental. Police had suspected her parents, the family said. But investigators did not find drugs among their belongings, and Lydie and Boris tested negative, according to police reports. Investigators tried to question previous renters, including one who admitted to throwing a party where there was cocaine. But nothing tied those drugs to what killed Enora.
“I am currently unable to determine how the child Enora Lavenir ingested the fentanyl,” an investigator wrote in the latest report. “Therefore I am unable to develop probable cause for abuse or neglect leading to the death of Enora. Currently the manner of death is listed as accidental.”
Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Teri Barbera confirmed the case is closed pending leads. Although no criminal charges have been brought, the family is now suing Airbnb, the property owner, the rental’s manager and the renter who had hosted the party, claiming the fentanyl was left behind by partygoers and not cleaned up.
Fatal encounters of children and fentanyl are rare compared to the devastation the opioid has inflicted upon adults, and especially people who use drugs. But the stories have galvanized activists, families and lawmakers to raise an alarm against the dangers and push for reform. Fentanyl has become a leading killer of Americans between the ages 18 to 49, sparking calls for justice amid a worsening epidemic. Families of at least 15 teenagers and young adults have sued Snapchat over online drug sales. Meanwhile, prosecutors have pursued criminal charges for fentanyl sales that result in death, especially targeting the family members and friends of those who die. Yet, these cases are complicated by the difficulty of finding where the deadly fentanyl came from.
One legal expert says the lawsuit against Airbnb is unlikely to make it to trial given the challenge of determining its source. “They can prove that the child died from fentanyl exposure, but where that fentanyl comes from, linking it to this particular group, that just sounds monstrously difficult under these circumstances,” said Lars Noah, a law professor at the University of Florida.
Thomas Scolaro, the Miami-based attorney representing the family, said that deduction has led his clients to believe the partygoers brought the fentanyl — although he acknowledged finding the source of the drugs is not his primary concern.
“The only thing we have here is our common sense,” Scolaro said. “It was definitely in that unit, that Airbnb. Which particular person left the drugs is frankly not anything I’m trying to prove. What I want to show is Airbnb provided no cleanup, no warning, no measure of safety for the family.”
Airbnb has not yet filed a response in court. In a statement to The Post, the company said: “Our hearts go out to the Lavenir family and their loved ones for their devastating loss.”
The homeowner and previous renter accused the parents of carelessness in their responses. The renter, who booked the property through Vrbo, added he cannot be liable for what happened in the house after he left, including if it was cleaned or if anyone else was in the house. Vrbo did not respond to a request for comment.
Drug experts say cases like this where children are exposed to fentanyl are rare. Although the majority of fentanyl-related deaths are concentrated among individuals in their late 20s and 30s, incidents involving young children, such as a toddler playing in a San Francisco park who overdosed from fentanyl, have garnered considerable national attention. From 2018 to 2021, 260 children 4 years old and under died from fentanyl, according to a Post analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Law enforcement agencies have echoed false tales that fentanyl can cause overdoses by mere touch and has infiltrated Halloween candy, but the sensationalized stories should not shape the nation’s drug policy, said Keith Humphreys, who served as a drug policy adviser in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
“These kinds of things galvanize emotions because it’s so horrifying, a baby dying from fentanyl,” Humphreys said. “But we should really be focused on the fact that 70,000 people a year are dying of fentanyl. We have extremely common fentanyl deaths among people who use drugs, and that’s how we need to think about the problem.”
In most cases when children have been exposed to a drug, they found it somewhere accessible and put it in their mouths, said William Eggleston, assistant professor at Binghamton University School of Pharmacy. Fentanyl is typically found in the form of pressed pills or a white powder and has increasingly been mixed into other drugs, such as heroin. Enora had only fentanyl in her system, according to the autopsy and toxicology report obtained by The Post.
At first, the family had not suspected drugs. They wondered if something had happened to Enora on her first airplane ride. They had decided it was likely sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which kills thousands of babies a year.
Investigators also appeared to consider several theories, according to police reports. Detectives had Lydie show them how the baby was sleeping, using a doll as a prop. They reviewed Enora’s medical history and inspected her body for bruising. They tested her bottle for fentanyl and found none. They traced back the family’s movements, arriving at Miami’s airport and spending the next day at the lake home. They also spoke with neighbors, who recalled a party at the home about two weeks prior to the family’s arrival.
Investigators tried to reach the three people who had rented the home prior to the family. They reached one who said people at a party used cocaine on the kitchen counter, but he denied the drugs had fentanyl.
“What is certain is, Enora had contact with fentanyl in the Airbnb,” said Boris, her father.
Steven Rich contributed to this report.