When Shelbi Westlake, a 26-year-old New York mom, died of an overdose at a homeless shelter in Manhattan, her 15-month-old baby reportedly stayed with her corpse for days until staff found them under a bed.
That’s what the child’s father, Quraan Laboy, contends in court filings obtained by media outlets this week. The 31-year-old dad is suing the city and its Department of Homeless Services for $5 million in damages, claiming that his daughter Lyric spent five days “covered in human feces” and desperate for food and water.
Laboy told reporters that his daughter is still traumatized from the horrifying ordeal.
“I don’t know how long she will suffer with this,” he said. “She has a lot of separation anxiety.”
Shelbi Westlake Dead for Days Before Discovery
According to media reports, 26-year-old Westlake and her baby were staying in the East River Family Center, a homeless shelter in Manhattan’s East Harlem, when she died suddenly in July. City medical examiners later ruled that the young mom was killed when she accidentally overdosed.
Laboy’s lawyer Seth Harris said Westlake and her daughter were living in a closed-off, apartment-like unit within the shelter for months before the latter died.
Because they enjoyed semi-private quarters, staff did not discover Westlake’s body or her unattended baby until five days after she died, when another resident reported a “foul odor” coming from the room, according to a petition filed by the child’s father in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Father of Baby Plans to Sue
By the time she was finally rescued, Lyric’s situation was dire. Court filings allege the baby was “covered in human feces,” had a “horrific” diaper rash, and lost seven pounds during the ordeal.
Her father told reporters that she’s still recovering, physically and emotionally, nearly half a year later. In addition to separation anxiety, which Laboy said she didn’t exhibit before her mother’s death, the 15-month-old reportedly now “routinely” slaps her father awake at night to make sure he’s still alive.
“She always wakes up in the middle of the night,” he said. “She’s kicking, she’s fighting, saying, ‘Mommy,’ I look at her and I just start tearing up sometimes.”
Laboy, a Manhattan resident, said that he stepped down from his job with the New York City Housing Authority to care for his daughter full time after her mother’s death.
“I had to drop everything,” he explained. “She’s my number one priority right now,” he said. “My daughter’s got to deal with this mentally for the rest of her life.”
Now, the 31-year-old dad plans to sue the city and the Department of Homeless Services for damages totaling $5 million, claiming that they abandoned 15-month-old Lyric.
“Allowing an infant to remain with her dead mother for five days unnoticed not only highlights the indifference and lack of humanity shown to those most in need,” said Allison Keenan, one of Laboy’s attorneys.
“But it exhibits complete malfeasance by the City of New York and Department of Homeless Services,” she added.
“It’s amazing that she’s alive,” said Harris, another of Laboy’s lawyers.
For their part, city officials have not responded to requests for comment from multiple outlets. DHS has disputed that Lyric was left with her mother’s corpse for a full five days, but has not given a timeline of events.
Meanwhile, Keenan said that intake records from the East River Family Center show that Westlake last checked into the shelter on July 19. She and her baby were discovered on July 25.