The mother of the Utah toddler who suffocated under a bean bag last week as a child care employee sat unaware on top of him is demanding answers as she struggles to come to terms with the toddler’s death.
“We’re barely coping, barely making it. He was the biggest life of the house,” Danielle Sanchez tells PEOPLE of her 1-year-old son, Leonardo. “There’s just a void here. It’s just very, very difficult.”
Leonardo, who Sanchez called her “little Leo,” was playing under a pile of bean bag chairs at the West Jordan Child Center last week when an employee sat on the pile to read the children a story – suffocating the little boy in the process.
“He was such a bright, bright boy. He had such a loving, loving personality,” she tells PEOPLE. “He just loved being a part of what everyone else was a part of.”
Sanchez says she was in disbelief when officers told her what happened.
“I had to say it back to the officer, ‘So, you’re telling me right now that a teacher sat on my son? Sat on my baby? ‘ ” Sanchez recalls. “And he said, ‘Yes.’ “
She adds: “I have questions … it’s just frustrating, confusing. I’m baffled. I want my baby boy back. And that’s not going to happen.”
The mother says she got the call just after 10 a.m., “It was a daycare worker just screaming that ‘He’s not breathing.’ “
Sanchez arrived at a local hospital and struggled to learn the details of what happened to her son. She says it wasn’t until the boy was airlifted to a second hospital that police told her the details.
“Why Wasn’t He Kept Track of”
It was not unusual for her son to play in the pile of bean bags, Sanchez tells PEOPLE.
“I can see the kids playing in the bean bags because when I’ve gone to pick them up, they’ve been playing in them and they’ll jump out and surprise me,” she says, noting that Leonardo was playing with another boy that day. “The boy came out [of the bean bags] but my son didn’t.”
Sanchez says Leonardo, who would have turned 2 this week, was under the chair for up to 15 minutes before the employee realized he was there. She says the employee could have read one story and started another during that time.
“Why wasn’t he kept track of? He’s rowdy. He’s loud. He’s the one you watched out for,” she says through tears. “If he was kept track of they would have known he was playing in the pile of bags.”
Mom on Staffer: ‘I Feel for Her, Yet I’m Upset’
The mother says she has “mixed emotions” about the employee who sat on her son.
“My heart drops to the floor for her knowing she has to live with that for the rest of her life,” Sanchez tells PEOPLE. “I feel for her, yet I’m upset. I’m angry and I’m saddened.”
Police have not revealed the identity of the employee.
Sanchez says the family plans to hold Leonardo’s funeral on his birthday, Sept. 17. They have encouraged guests to bring birthday presents, which will be donated to a local children’s hospital.
A GoFundMe page has been set up for the family to cover funeral costs.
As the Sanchez family continues to grieve, Sanchez is comforted knowing that her son has continued helping others, even in his death.
“That very day, the doctor’s came in and asked us if we wanted to donate his heart, because they could use the heart valve for other children,” she says, noting that her son loved to help other children.
“We decided that was the best thing for him to keep spreading his love and help others.”
Officials with West Jordan Child Center declined to comment and a lawyer for the center did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.