Cherone Coleman said her daughter, Zoey Pereira, was "loving, always smiling, and oh so caring"
The mother of the 3-year-old girl who died after being trapped inside a burning car Sunday night has broken her silence, claiming that the child’s father warned her via phone that very evening, telling her she’d never see her daughter again.
“Just before he burned my daughter, he called, saying crazy things,” Zoey Pereira’s mother, Cherone Coleman, 36, told the New York Daily News. “I couldn’t even understand some of them, but he said, ‘Do I have your attention now, b—-? I got your attention now, b—-. You’re never going to see your daughter again.”
Coleman told the paper she immediately called the police, fearing for Zoey’s life, but had no idea where the girl and her father, Martin Pereira, could be.
According to police, Pereira and Zoey were in Queens, where they’d both be found hours later.
An NYPD source told PEOPLE on Monday Zoey was barely alive after being rescued from the backseat of a torched 2008 Audi.
The little girl, in critical condition, was rushed to the closest hospital, but was pronounced dead soon after arriving at the emergency room, the source said.
The source further explained that the Audi’s doors had been chained shut from the interior, trapping the toddler inside. The windows were also rolled up.
Police would later find gas canisters and a fuel tank at the scene.
“I always thought he was going to hurt me,” Coleman told the Daily News. “I never thought he was going to hurt my daughter.”
Coleman said Zoey “was perfect,” describing the 3-year-old as “loving, always smiling, and oh so caring.”
Coleman added: “She was my only child, and I can’t have any more.”
Speaking to the paper, Coleman explained she’d split from Zoey’s father in March, leading to a bitter court battle over custody.
Last week, a judge granted Pereira a weekend visit, Coleman said, against her wishes. He was able to keep her for Saturday and Sunday.
Now, Coleman said she regrets respecting the judge’s order.
“I should’ve just kept her and gone to jail,” she said.
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Pereira, 39, was taken into custody soon after police arrived at the scene, but has not been charged with a crime as of Tuesday. He is currently in the hospital recovering from burns.
Eyewitnesses saw him, on fire, run into a nearby park, where he jumped into a pond to extinguish the flames, the source said.