A 3-year-old child burned to death inside a car that had been set on fire and its doors chained shut, and her father is in a hospital under police custody, suspected of being involved in what authorities are calling the tot’s homicide.
Police and firefighters found little Zoey Pereira strapped inside the backseat of a car that was engulfed in flames on a street in New York City’s Queens borough Sunday night. The doors had been chained shut, but the heat from the flames was so intense, the metal melted enough for the rescuers to pull the little girl from the death trap, according to the New York Daily News.
They rushed her to a hospital, but it was too late. Zoey was declared dead.
Police are investigating Zoey’s death as a homicide, according to the New York Times, which reports that a witness told investigators that he saw Zoey’s father, Martin Pereira, 39, running from the car with his clothes on fire. He ran into a nearby park, where he jumped into a lake to douse the flames, the witness said.
Police took him to the hospital, where on Tuesday, he remained badly burned and under medical sedation, according to the News.
According to the Times:
Investigators found two gas canisters — one in front of the car and one in the rear seat — and a 20-pound propane tank in the trunk. The tank had a hose attached to it that ran into the back seat, according to a city official close to the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.
While Pereira is in police custody, he has not been charged with a crime as authorities have been unable to question him to find out exactly what happened, the News reports.
However, friends, family members and the child’s mother told reporters that she and Pereira had been in an ugly custody battle over Zoey.
“There was a lot of stress building up in him,” a former co-worker, Angel Rivera, told the Times of Pereira, saying that Pereira had been distraught and complained he was only going to see his daughter every two weeks.
The child’s mother, 36-year-old Cherone Coleman, overcome by grief and anger, told the News that Pereira had their daughter in his care at the time of the child’s death due to a judge’s order, and that she wishes she had disobeyed the judge.
“I should’ve just kept her and gone to jail,” Coleman said.