NEW YORK >> Kevin Krim knew something was wrong when his flight from the West Coast landed at Kennedy Airport and his telephone blew up with messages from friends, asking if he was all right.
Then the captain announced that the police needed to take someone off the plane. A flight attendant tapped his arm and asked to him to come forward to a galley. His telephone rang. It was his brother-in-law, saying something had happened to his children.
“I sat down in the galley,” he recalled as he testified at his former nanny’s murder trial on Tuesday. “It’s the worst thing imaginable. I was hoping this is just a nightmare and it wasn’t.”
Two police officers escorted Krim off the plane and drove him to what was then known as St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, saying nothing. At the hospital, a doctor informed him that two of his children, Leo, 2, and Lucia, 6, were dead. “I was crying, kind of flailing around,” he said. “I was asking: ‘What happened? What happened?’”
That was when someone told him that Yoselyn Ortega, a woman he and his wife had employed for two years as a nanny and had taken pains to help financially, had killed his children.
Until today, Krim had not seen Ortega since that day — Oct. 25, 2012.
Asked to identify her, he raised his eyes and pointed at her sitting at the defense table in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, his jaw tight and his mouth curved down. She did not return his gaze.
Ortega, 55, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and faces life in prison if convicted. She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and her trial has turned largely on questions about her mental health.
That evening, she was found in the bathroom of the Krim family’s apartment on West 75th Street. Lucia and Leo lay dead in a bloody tub, stabbed repeatedly. A kitchen knife was in the sink. Ortega had plunged a second knife into her own throat in a suicide attempt.
Krim, 42, a media executive, said he and his wife, Marina, had decided to hire a nanny in 2010 when she was pregnant with Leo, their third child. He pushed for it, he said. He was working 12-hour days and his wife was overloaded.
They first heard about Ortega when her sister Celia Ortega approached Marina Krim, visibly pregnant, during Lucia’s ballet class at the Jewish Community Center. She said Yoselyn Ortega was an experienced nanny.
That turned out to be untrue, Kevin Krim said. But Yoselyn Ortega provided the Krims with a phony reference, a woman who vouched for Ortega in an emailed letter, giving glowing answers to a long list of questions from the Krims. “The answers we got back were all a lie,” Krim said. “Every single one.”
Krim, who has two family members with schizophrenia, said he never saw any signs Ortega had a mental illness. “Absolutely not, never,” he said.
But Krim said he knew Ortega was under financial strain. She had rented a new apartment and had moved her teenage son from the Dominican Republic to New York City, placing him in an expensive private school.
He and his wife offered her extra hours cleaning their apartment. They paid for her to take at least two trips to the Dominican Republic to deal with family emergencies, treating the cost as a bonus of sorts. They employed her son for odd jobs, like walking the dog, and sometimes employed her sister Daisy. They even recommended her to some friends who needed a nanny for a month while they were out of town.
“We knew there was financial pressure and we wanted to find her more ways to make money,” he said. “There was always this theme that I was pushing hard on: ‘Let’s make sure she’s happy, that she wants to keep working for us.’”
Krim said that Ortega was generally a reliable employee and that he did not want to lose her because it would disrupt his children’s lives. “She did her job well,” he said on cross-examination.
Yet he testified that he noticed nothing in Ortega’s behavior that would have predicted what happened on Oct. 25, 2012.
That night, at the hospital, he recalled that he was led into a room where his wife, wrung out from weeping, fell into his arms. She had returned home about 5:30 p.m., carrying her middle child, Nessie, after Ortega failed to show up with Lucia for a dance class and found her children dead.
“I hugged her and she said ‘Kevin, we are not going to get divorced over this,’” he recalled. “‘Oprah always said people get divorced after they lose kids.’”
Krim said he told doctors he wanted to see his children. He and his wife entered a tiny examination room, the two children on gurneys. Nurses had quickly cleaned their bodies and wrapped them in sheets up to their chins, he said.
“And they were beautiful and strange,” he said. “They were the wrong color. They didn’t have any blood left in them so they were bluish. But they had this perfect skin and their long eyelashes. They had this, like, sandy brown hair. You could see they tried really hard to wash the blood out but it still had kind of an auburn tint to it that I remember to this day.”
“I got down on my knees and I said I’m sorry,” Krim said. “I said I love you and kissed them and said goodbye.”
“It’s worst thing you can imagine,” he added. Then he dabbed his eyes.