The cause of death of an inmate who died at the Carroll County Detention Center late on Wednesday, Feb. 5 has been determined, but it may leave his family with more questions than it answers.
The Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has completed an investigation into the death of 37-year-old Nicholaus A. Cirillo, of Delaware, and determined he died of natural causes due to perforated duodenal ulcer, according to Maryland Department of Health Spokeswoman Deidre McCabe.
An ulcer is a sore in the digestive track and a duodenal ulcer is a sore in the small intestine, according the Johns Hopkins Medicine website. A perforation means the ulcer has created a hole in the small intestine, allowing in bacteria and partially digested food, according to the site, which can lead to infection and symptoms such as nausea, pain and vomiting blood.
Cirillo was seen by detention center medical staff after complaining of stomach pain Wednesday, according to Detention Center Warden George Hardinger, who said that correctional officers had been assigned to check on him every 15 minutes that evening, and did so.
But the symptoms described on the Johns Hopkins site are very similar to those that Cirillo described to his aunt, Marianne Sickler, of Sykesville, who had been his legal guardian growing up after he was orphaned at age 5 and to whom he was like a son. Cirillo had placed several calls to Sickler’s cellphone around 6:45 p.m., but when she was unable to answer right away, he left a voicemail.
“I listened to that message and he was crying and saying he needed me,” Sickler said. "He thought I was ignoring his calls but I wasn’t, I didn’t have my phone, I was upstairs."
In the recording, Cirillo can be heard to say, “Mom, I really need you right now. Please stop ignoring me. I love you either way.”
Sickler’s phone showed that the call had been placed from the Carroll County Detention Center, so she returned the call and someone there placed Cirillo on the phone.
“We were talking a little bit, he was like, ‘I am coughing up blood,’” Sickler said of the phone call, when she spoke with Cirillo for just under six minutes at about 7 p.m.
She said Cirillo told her he needed to go to the hospital, but "they won’t take me. "
Sickler said she could hear Cirrillo cough or vomit or something that sounded like it and she told him that they had to take him to the hospital.
“We hung up and I assumed that was because somebody was coming to check on him to get him treatment for whatever was going on,” Sickler said.
Instead, Cirillo was seen lying on the floor of his cell at 10:57 p.m. on Wednesday. Detention Center staff were with Cirillo a few minutes after 11 p.m. “when he became unresponsive,” according to a media release, and performed CPR until emergency medical personnel from the Westminster volunteer fire company arrived at 11:12 p.m.
Cirillo was pronounced dead at 11:41 p.m.
Sickler, angry and grieving, has questions.
“I just don’t understand,” she said. “He wanted to go to the hospital. The hospital is right around the corner, why couldn’t they take him to the hospital from 7 p.m. when I talked to him to 10:57 p.m. when they supposedly found him?"
Hardinger said the detention center medical staff would have transported Cirillo to the hospital if they thought it was necessary.
“He was receiving medical attention based on what we knew, what had come to our attention," Hardinger said. “He was complaining of his stomach hurting and we responded to that.”
Cirillo was taken to the detention center Wednesday on a bench warrant for failure to appear in court on two misdemeanor drug charges in the District Court for Worcester County in Ocean City.
Hardinger said Sickler’s account of the phone call with Cirillo around 7 p.m. Wednesday, when she believes he vomited while speaking with her, does not match his understanding of the events of Wednesday evening.
“We’ve gone through it minute by minute, from the time he walked in the door,” Hardinger said. “We had him, at one time or another, under a camera for almost his entire stay here. It just doesn’t square with what we know.”
For her part, Sickler doesn’t understand the warden’s account either.
“I just don’t really understand how a 37-year-old young man ...” she began, becoming emotional. “He’s not a murderer. He’s not a bad person. He might have had some demons with some drugs, but nothing to deserve to die on a jail cell floor by himself.”