A Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge on Thursday extended the remand of the exterminator who allegedly negligently sprayed lethal pesticides in the Jerusalem apartment of a family of six, leaving two sisters dead and their two brothers in critical condition.
Two-year-old Yael Gross and her four-year-old sister, Avigail, died Wednesday after being exposed to a powerful chemical agent that the exterminator used in their Givat Mordechai home the previous day. Both girls were buried Thursday at Har Hamenuhot cemetery in Jerusalem.
Their seven- and five-year-old brothers, Michael and Yitzhak, who were transferred Wednesday from the capital’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center to Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva, continue to cling to life on respirators.
The suspect, arrested Wednesday, was transported to Shaare Zedek later that day to provide doctors with information about the toxic material he used in the apartment, in the hope that it would help them treat the young boys more effectively.
His identity is being withheld by a court gag order.
On Thursday, a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge determined that the pesticide used in the home was “completely prohibited for household use,” and ordered that the exterminator remain in custody until Friday, at which point he is to be under house arrest until January 27.
In an interview with Israel National News, Cmdr. Reshef Eli Basson, whose team was among the first responders to the Gross home, said Thursday that the toxicity levels in their apartment were the highest the police had ever recorded.
“I wondered how the exterminator could have left these materials inside the apartment,” he said. “I advise everyone to be careful.”
Pediatric cardiologists at Schneider Children’s Medical Center struggled on Thursday to save the lives of Michael and Yitzhak Gross.
The boys were rushed to Schneider because they needed to be attached to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, which is not available in Jerusalem.
ECMO is an artificial lung that pushes oxygen into the blood and then carries the treated blood to body tissues – a modified form of heartlung bypass that is used for a longer period than the machines used in the operating room during open-heart surgery. It provides both cardiac and respiratory support for patients whose heart and lungs are so severely damaged or diseased that they can no longer serve their function.
Dr. Einat Birk, who heads the hospital’s cardiology institute, said that despite her years in the specialty, she had never before seen a case of children whose lungs and heart were so damaged from pesticides.
“There is no change today,” she said. “If we took them off the ECMO, they would not survive. We pray that their heart and lung tissues will regenerate.”
The doctor added that there is very little in medical literature about such cases.
“There is no antidote for the poisoning, no medication,” she said.
Birk said the parents of the two sons were at the funeral of the daughters during the interview, and were expected to come to Schneider when it was over.
Meanwhile, Shaare Zedek’s deputy director-general, Dr. Ofer Merin, said that four young members of another family from the same building as the Grosses were admitted to the hospital on Thursday for similar symptoms, though “far less severe” than the Gross children.
However, Merin emphasized that to his knowledge the pesticide used in the second family’s home was unrelated to the Gross case, and was administered by a different exterminator.
“Four members of a family of seven from the same building were admitted at 7:30 p.m. with similar symptoms resulting from a treatment done to their home,” he said.
“But I want to be really cautious before drawing any conclusions. A different insecticide was used [in their apartment] and they are all stable, and thankfully the symptoms are far less severe than from yesterday.”
In response to the poisonings, the Environmental Protection Ministry issued a statement Thursday that it was launching an exhaustive investigation, in coordination with several other departments, to determine what transpired in the Gross home.
“Following the tragic event that occurred in Jerusalem, we are activating all systems, namely those in the Environmental Protection Ministry – the Green Police, the department for hazardous materials and various other departments of the ministry – all in coordination with the Israel Police and the Fire and Rescue Services, in order to help investigate the incident to reach the truth and examine all the events surrounding the incident,” the statement read.
The Health Ministry said it was launching a separate investigation.
During a Thursday interview with IDF Radio, the Gross children’s grandmother Tzippora Gross and uncle Shlomo Rein beseeched listeners to pray for Michael and Yitzhak.
“Let the entire Jewish nation pray for the boys, that they be healthy, that they have the strength to deal with this. Each person can do something in merit of the two boys,” Gross said.
The grandmother, who has remained by her son and daughter-in-law’s side throughout the ordeal, said the couple, who are expected to physically recover, are struggling but maintaining hope that their two sons will survive.
“It’s very difficult, but they have strong faith, and I hope their faith will help them,” she said.
Rein added that the children’s parents are asking for the nation’s prayers.
“The family’s request, and the parents’ request, is this: please pray,” he said. “We need a lot of heavenly mercy.”