CAMDEN, N.J. — A 6-year-old boy whose throat was slashed by an intruder high on PCP-laced marijuana was killed trying to save his sister, coming to her aid as she was being assaulted on the floor, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Osvaldo Rivera, who is charged in Sunday's middle-of-the-night attack, sobbed during an appearance Tuesday in court in which bail was set at $5 million.
During an interrogation, Rivera had asked: "How bad did I hurt them?" assistant prosecutor Christine Shah said during the hearing.
The attack early Sunday was the second time in less than two weeks that prosecutors say a Camden resident apparently high on PCP had killed a child. On Aug. 22, a Camden woman decapitated her 2-year-old son, called 911 to admit stabbing the child, then killed herself.
Authorities said they are going to test PCP on the street to see what might be behind the outbursts of violence. The drug can make users hallucinatory and incoherent, police said.
The 31-year-old Rivera admitted he smoked "wet," a combination of marijuana and PCP, before the killing, police said. In the decapitation case, authorities said that preliminary tests showed the woman had PCP in her system and that they believed she had also smoked wet.
New details in the more recent attack were revealed after authorities interviewed the girl, 12, whose windpipe had been slashed but whose condition was upgraded from critical to stable. She ran out of the house and sought help after her brother intervened.
Both children had been sleeping downstairs when the assault began, police said.
The girl also said she had been raped by the attacker, Shah said at the court hearing.
Rivera, who did not enter a plea, is charged with murder and attempted murder, but prosecutors said more charges will be filed. Authorities said he had a drug arrest in 2009 but no other convictions. He did not yet have an attorney Tuesday.
The Associated Press is not naming the slain 6-year-old to avoid identifying his sister, who says she is a victim of sexual assault.
The 12-year-old was able to help police track down the attacker by identifying him as what sounded like "Poppy." Investigators learned Rivera was known by the nickname "Popeye" and had spent nights at an apartment in the area of the city.
Police found him hiding between a mattress and bedroom wall in the apartment. They said they also found blood-stained sneakers that matched bloody footprints in the home where the children were assaulted.
The children were being watched by a 14-year-old girl, authorities said. The teen, who was unharmed, was caring for them because their mother recently underwent surgery and was still in the hospital.
Authorities said they are analyzing batches of wet from Camden to see if it has been tampered with or if there is something chemically different about the wet now on the streets of Camden, a city across the river from Philadelphia that continually ranks as one of the nation's most dangerous.
"Is there some type of alteration that's being done that has triggered this?" spate of violence, said Camden Police Chief J. Scott Thomson.
There have been 10 homicides in the past 4 or 5 years where PCP has played a role, Thomson said. Authorities said the drug sells for about $10 a vial.
Dr. Al Sacchetti, chief of emergency services at our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, said doctors treat at least one or two people on PCP each day.
Sacchetti said PCP users tend to engage in "non-specific aggressive behavior" and are often more of a danger to themselves than to others. PCP users tend to be incoherent and are mostly vocally aggressive. Extreme violence is rare, Dr. Sacchetti said.
"These tragedies, the last couple of cases, are very unusual for what we're used to seeing," Dr. Sacchetti said. "Usually people hallucinate, but they're not that focused. You have to be very focused to cut someone's head off or find someone and slit their throat."
Zezima reported from Newark.