BRIDGEPORT — TV viewers nationwide mourned 13-month-old Michael Citron’s death, broadcast on a reality show featuring local cops and law enforcement from five other cities.
For most, the tragedy of the toddler from Bridgeport could be forgotten when the cameras were off and the credits of that Dec. 2 episode of A&E’s “Live PD” series rolled.
But the mystery behind Citron’s death — he was in the care of a state-approved foster family — lingers, despite a city spokesman having initially attributed the fatality to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The case is under investigation by two state agencies — the Department of Children and Families, which placed Citron in his foster home — and by the Office of the Child Advocate.
“Certainly a child dying in foster care is a significant event,” said Faith Vos Winkel, who investigates child fatalities for the child advocate’s office.
But both agencies are awaiting a ruling from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner before moving forward.
Meanwhile the biological mother, Lauren Citron of Greenwich, has hired attorneys Christopher Kenworthy and Anissa Klapproth, the latter a child protection specialists, to conduct a separate probe.
“This was a terrible tragedy only worsened by the fact that the Citron family is still in the dark regarding the circumstances leading up to, and the ultimate cause of, Michael’s death,” attorney Christopher Kenworthy wrote in a statement Friday. “The Citron family is no closer to finding out what happened at this time then they were when the police arrived at their home at the beginning of the month to inform them of this terrible tragedy.”
“All we want is justice for Michael,” Kenworthy continued. “We need to determine if this tragedy could have been prevented in any way, and if so, to be sure that appropriate steps are taken in the future to ensure that no other family has to go through what the Citron family is going through right now.”
According to DCF, Citron was placed in the Bridgeport foster home Nov. 13, 2015, just weeks after his birth. The foster family had been licensed by DCF that September.
“Prior to licensure we conduct criminal and child protective background checks on all adults in the household and require extensive training,” said Josh Howroyd, a DCF spokesman. “The training is pretty rigorous and takes over a five to ten week period. We also inspect the home for safety and compliance with foster care regulations.”
Citron was rushed by ambulance to St. Vincent’s Medical Center on “Live PD.” The episode drew attention not only for the toddler’s death, but the reaction of one of the responding officers, Police Sgt. Chris Robinson. Robinson teared up in his patrol car as he informed viewers that the toddler did not survive.
“It was kind of lifeless upon arrival at the hospital. It’s um…” Robinson said. “It’s a heartbreaking scene. These are the calls that just, they get to you.”
Av Harris, Bridgeport’s director of communications, told Hearst Media at the time, “There doesn’t appear to be any foul play.”
“It appears to be sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); we’re awaiting on autopsy results,” Harris had said. The Mayo Clinic defines sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, as “the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old.”
According to the clinic, “Although the cause is unknown, it appears that SIDS may be associated with abnormalities in the portion of an infant’s brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep.”
Vos Winkel said “it’s a rare event that we classify a case as a SIDS. I want to say in three years we’ve had actually one case diagnosed as SIDS.”
Vos Winkel added that, in her experience, “It would be almost unheard of to call a one-year-old’s (death) a SIDS. Not that I can rule anything out. I’m not a medical examiner. But that would be pretty unusual.”
Kenworthy in his statement said, “We expect cooperation and transparency from all involved agencies, because speculation, surmise and conjecture run rampant in the absence of information, evidence and proof.” Bridgeport has since decided not to participate any longer in “Live PD.” City officials have cited no one incident, but were pressured by the University of Bridgeport and business leaders to reconsider being a part of the program over fears it hurt efforts to improve the city’s image.