Family and friends are mourning a 3-year-old Queens, New York, girl this week after her father allegedly chained her inside of his car and set it on fire. The tragic event took place on Sunday night.
Martin Pereira, 39, is currently in police custody in relation to the crime.
Those close to the case say the incident was a devastating end to what was turning into a heated custody battle between Periera and the toddler’s mother, Cherone Coleman. When speaking to NY Daily News reporters, Coleman said she believed her former fiance was starting to show mental instability and would eventually hurt her. His recent actions prompted the 36-year-old medical assistant to ask the court to stop his parental visits. Despite her concerns, a judge allowed Pereira to take their daughter Zoey to his home in Long Island last weekend. It’s a decision that Coleman now wishes she fought harder against.
“I should’ve just kept her and gone to jail,” Coleman told the Daily News. Pereira had reportedly told her before he left with their young child, “You’re never going to see your daughter again.”
On Sunday night, the toddler’s remains were pulled from the back of Pereira’s Audi. According to the New York Post, witnesses in the Springfield Gardens neighborhood of Queens saw him fleeing the vehicle, flames engulfing his body, and heard him say, “I have my kid in the car.”
Police sources say the girl was strapped into her car seat inside the vehicle, and the doors had been chained shut. Gas was splashed throughout the interior, leading authorities to rule the child’s death a homicide.
Pereira is in serious but stable condition and remains medically sedated and in police custody at Manhattan’s New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Given his state, officials have yet to charge or interview him.