Nerlin Sarmiento, 32, appeared briefly in court Friday morning, to face first-degree murder charged in the death of her 7-year-old son, Omar Aileen Jajoy.
The boy was pronounced dead in hospital on Tuesday after paramedics were called to a south Edmonton apartment. Police have not released the cause of death, but it’s believed that Omar drowned.
Sarmiento entered the courthouse wearing leg shackles, crying and shaking, her hands clenched, as her family sat in the front row.
Her husband, Florentino Jajoy, blew kisses and made the sign of the cross in her direction during the hearing.
Defence lawyer Peter Royal told the court that his client suffers from severe mental health issues and is currently in isolation at the Edmonton Remand Centre on suicide watch.
At the request of Royal, provincial judge Shelagh Creagh ordered Sarmiento remanded to custody to Alberta Hospital for a 30-day assessment to determine her fitness to stand trial or her criminal responsibility.
She also ordered that Sarmiento have no contact with her husband, her daughter and another family member, saying that all three will likely be witnesses in the proceedings.
The accused was silent for most of the appearance, only speaking up when the judge asked if a translator was needed.
“I don’t understand everything,” Sarmiento said, after her lawyer said that they were able to speak in English.
She is set to be back in court again on March 15.
Family struggled to get help
Sarmiento and Jajoy are originally from Colombia.
In an interview on Thursday, Jajoy said that it was hard to get help for his wife's mental illness.
"We tried to get support from institutions all the time," he said. "It's hard for us. It's hard for English too. Everything for immigrants is hard."
Ariela Cerna, a community support worker at the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, worked with Jajoy when he joined the agency's community leadership program.
She says it can be difficult for newcomers to get established in a new culture.
"There's a great barrier for immigrants," she said. "Because we don't know the system."
Executive director Erick Ambtman says the number of clients at the centre has gone up 200 per cent over the past three years so staff and programs are being added to meet the increased demand.
Ambtman wants newcomers who may be struggling with their new life in Canada to know that the Mennonite Centre can help them.
"'We need you to walk through the door because we don't know who you are," he said. "But when you do, we can provide you with what you'll really need."