Mamaroneck mom used helium to try to suffocate son, 4, source says

Manuela Morgado, 46, right, is accused of killing Manuela Morgado, 46, right, is accused of killing her 4-year-old son in what police believe was a murder-attempted suicide at Morgado's Mamaroneck apartment. (Oct. 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Elizabeth Daza/Village of Mamaroneck Police Department

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A Mamaroneck mother accused of killing her 4-year-old son used helium in an attempt to suffocate the child, a law enforcement source told Newsday.

That might not have killed the child, so she then may have tried some other way to smother him, the source said.

An official determination as to how Jason Reish died could take up to six weeks as police await the results of toxicology tests.

Investigators believe Manuela Maria Morgado, 46, may have tried to suffocate her son with helium because she recently bought a mask, tube and the gas online, according to the law enforcement source. Helium inhaled through a mask without any oxygen can suffocate a person.

Morgado, who has been charged with second-degree murder, was involved in a long-running custody battle in Westchester County Family Court and had lost a round in the court fight in September, according to the source. The child's father, Timothy Reish, an orthopedic surgeon, was never married to Morgado. He had reunited in Briarcliff Manor with his wife, from whom he had separated several years ago. While separated, he met and had a relationship with Morgado, sources said.

Jason, Morgado's only child, was killed between 8 p.m. Sunday and about 10:20 a.m. Monday, when Mamaroneck police arrived at Morgado's home, a condominium at 1035 E. Boston Post Rd., according to a felony complaint against her.

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On Friday, she was stymied in an attempt in the state's appellate court to have Jason -- who had a condition diagnosed as requiring special education -- moved to Mamaroneck Community Nursery School. Timothy Reish had enrolled his son at Scarborough Presbyterian Children's Center in Briarcliff, where Reish lives. Morgado felt the child would receive better services at the Mamaroneck school, said her lawyer Dennis Light.

Light called Morgado on Friday afternoon to tell her the appellate judge had not granted her request, deciding instead to wait until after the next scheduled Westchester Family Court appearance Oct. 16 to make a ruling. The judge scheduled a hearing in Brooklyn for Oct. 17.

"She did not take it well," Light said. He described their conversation as abrupt and short.

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But he, said, there was no indication she was distraught.

"There was nothing to indicate there was violence on the horizon," he said. "She probably got distraught after that, thinking the case was lost."

Although Morgado and Reish were adversaries, there was no animosity in the court proceedings, Light said.

The custody arrangement was for each parent to have Jason half the time, an arrangement Light said was "untenable in the long run."

Both parents were in agreement that the child needed special education services -- an individualized education plan, Light said. They were in disagreement over which was the better preschool for those services, he said. Light had represented Morgado since March. The custody arrangement was already in place when Morgado hired him, he said.

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Jason Reish was smiling and laughing as he had dinner with his father, who had partial custody, just three days before he was killed, said Anthony Romano, owner of Paese Pasta and Pizza in Briarcliff Manor.

"He's a great kid," Romano said. "He was running around here just the other night."

Romano said he got to know the family well during the past decade, catering birthdays for the Reish children and hosting the family at his restaurant. He added that he "didn't sleep all night" after learning of the boy's death.

He described Jason's smile and laugh as his father tried to get him to sit still for dinner Thursday night.

Morgado was arraigned in Village of Mamaroneck Court late Monday and is being held without bail at Westchester County Jail in Valhalla. She is due back in court Thursday.

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The Westchester County medical examiner's office referred calls to Mamaroneck police, who did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Under questioning, Morgado was uncooperative, providing false information about her birthplace and age, sources said.

Police are investigating whether Jason was the victim of an attempted murder-suicide.

Police responding to a call from family members concerned about Morgado arrived at her home Monday morning to find her and Jason on the bed in her bedroom. The boy was already dead, and Morgado was in a "semiconscious" state, Mamaroneck Village police Det. Sandra DiRuzza said in an email statement Monday.

Before Morgado's arrest, law enforcement sources told Newsday that she had attempted to kill herself and had left a suicide note. Various prescription medicine was found in Morgado's home. Police are examining a video found at the scene, though it is unclear what its contents are, a source said. They also found syringes of the type that are commonly used to orally administer children's medicine. No needles were found and no video camera was discovered, sources said.

Morgado's neighbors remained stunned Tuesday by the incident.

"It makes no sense," said neighbor Amanda Pugliese, 20, who added that Morgado moved into the apartment complex in December.

Pugliese said she saw the family in the hallways or in the laundry room, where the mother would always remind her son to be polite.

"He was a cute little boy," Pugliese said, "I don't know how something like this could happen. She was always telling him to mind his manners. She was a single mom. It must have been hard."

Morgado, a graphic artist who works for a direct marketing company in New York City, had filed for bankruptcy twice in New Jersey, according to court records. She first filed in 1992. The details of that filing were unavailable.

In 2010, Morgado filed again for personal bankruptcy, citing debts of more than $470,000 and assets of about $430,000, including a Hoboken condominium valued at $399,000, according to court records.

Among her assets, she listed $3,000 a month in child support payments from Reish.

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