Police cautioned parents Thursday after 10 colored plastic eggs containing jellybeans and a handful of extra-strength aspirin tablets were discovered at an Irvine park.
The first egg was scooped up by an 18-month-old girl playing in the sand early Wednesday at a private recreation area in the Northpark Square neighborhood in Irvine.
The child's nanny took the egg from the girl and searched the park. She found nine more plastic eggs in plain view atop wood chips and white sand near swings, slides and seesaws. Each egg contained 10 aspirins, police said. The child did not ingest any of the pills.
Irvine police said they had no suspects.
On Thursday, authorities warned hundreds of homeowners within three miles of the park by using an automated device that Irvine police use to call residents in a community in which a crime has occurred.
Officers also patrolled the area and did spot checks at city parks while the homeowners association handed out fliers and updated its website. Notices were posted near the park.
"The person intends for children to pick up the eggs, consume them and get sick or die," Irvine Police Lt. Jeff Love said. "We're trying to get the word out so people are careful, then we'll catch the people who are doing this."
The eggs are being investigated for DNA evidence and fingerprints, Love said. No other eggs were found Thursday during searches of city parks, he said.
Mercedes Velasquez, 32, a nanny from Irvine, said she was angered by the eggs.
"We're very sad to see that someone would do that," she said. "We had to look for more because we are nannies, and for us the children's safety is very important. We didn't want anyone to get hurt."
Velasquez and her friend Florett Cortez, a nanny who is also employed in the neighborhood, put the eggs in plastic bags before handing them to police.
"Everybody here is angry because it is a sick thing to do," said Kim Lan Nguyen, 57, who takes her 22-month-old granddaughter, Lauren, to the park daily. "We spent money to buy expensive homes in an expensive area and this happens. It's evil."
The finding is reminiscent of a string of incidents in April 2002 in which more than 200 sharp nails and razorblades were left at playgrounds in parks in Foothill Ranch, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo. No one was injured during the six-week scare, during which police used metal detectors and performed overnight surveillance at dozens of parks before arresting Lori Fischer.
Fischer, 23, pleaded guilty to child abuse and assault with a deadly weapon. A judge ordered her released from jail in April. She was placed on five years' formal probation and ordered to get psychiatric help for a personality disorder.
Doctors and health officials said 10 aspirins ingested by a child could cause life-threatening symptoms, including seizures and severe brain swelling.
Preliminary symptoms would include nausea, vomiting, dehydration, an increased breathing rate, fever and lethargy, said Lee Cantrell, acting director of the California Poison Control System's San Diego division.
"Even five tablets for a child, that would be enough to be potentially toxic," Cantrell said.