Queens, NY – A child custody battle turned deadly on Sunday night, when a man chained his three-year-old daughter inside his vehicle and set it ablaze.
Martin Pereira had threatened to kill himself and his daughter, Zoey, just hours before he left her to burn to death inside his car, his ex-fiancé, Cherone Coleman, told the New York Post.
Coleman, 36, said that she and Pereira had been battling in court over custody of their three-year-old daughter, and that a judge ultimately ordered that Zoey was to go with Pereira over the weekend, The Washington Post reported.
On Saturday, Pereira took Zoey to the Cohen Children’s Medical Center, and claimed that Coleman had abused her, according to the New York Daily News.
“He was calling me a drug dealer and a drug addict,” said Coleman, who denied having harmed her child.
“They let him leave with her because he had all the paperwork stating he had visitation," she told the paper.
Pereira started calling her repeatedly on Sunday morning, but she refused to answer her phone, Coleman said.
He then dialed up one of her cousins.
“Get your brothers and get the cops — he said he’s going to kill himself and the baby,” the cousin told Coleman after receiving the call, according to the New York Post.
Coleman called Pereira, who began “saying crazy things,” she told the New York Daily News.
“He said, `Do I have your attention now, b---h? I got your attention now, b---h. You're never going to see your daughter again,’” she recounted.
The frantic mother immediately called 911 to report that she was afraid Pereira was going to harm Zoey and himself.
She called him again when police arrived, but he became enraged when he spotted one of the officers standing in the background during the video call, the New York Post reported.
“I know you’re talking…to the cops!” he raged.
Coleman confirmed that the police were with her, and told Pereira that he was “f--king crazy.”
“Where’s my daughter?” she demanded to know.
“Yeah, I’ll make you crazy,” he responded. “You’re never going to get your daughter again.”
Pereira then hung up on her, and only yelled incoherently when she called him back to try to speak with him further, she said.
At approximately 9 p.m., as Coleman was sitting inside the New York Police Department (NYPD) 113th Precinct station, she heard a radio call about a car on fire.
Police responded to the area near 154th Street and Baisley Boulevard, where they found the doors to Pereira’s vehicle chained shut and flames roaring out of the passenger side, the New York Daily News reported.
Zoey was strapped into her child safety seat, but Pereira ultimately got out of the vehicle and jumped into a nearby pond with his clothes on fire.
“I have my kid in the car,” he had told the good Samaritan who stopped to help.
Investigators later discovered that the inside of the vehicle had been doused with gasoline, The Washington Post reported.
A tube leading into the vehicle from a propane tank in the trunk further fueled the blaze, according to the New York Post.
The inferno was so intense that it melted the chains and door handles of the car, allowing first responders to reach Zoey, the New York Daily News reported.
She was rushed to Jamaica Hospital in a patrol vehicle.
“After I saw my daughter, I knew there was no way she survived that,” a tearful Coleman told the New York Post. “I knew she was dead from the moment they took her out of the car.”
Pereira was burned over 70 percent of his body, and remained heavily sedated in the hospital on Tuesday.
He is in police custody.
"He's the fu--king devil," Coleman said of Pereira, according to the New York Daily News.
"I wish I could torture him and kill him,” she said. “I can't imagine the pain my baby went through. She was burned terribly. Her bones were out and he ran off and left her to burn to death. Why would he do this to my daughter to get to me? It doesn't make sense."
Despite her grief and rage, Coleman said she ultimately hopes that Pereira survives.
“I want him to live and suffer for what he did to my daughter,” she said. “My daughter was perfect. She was loving, always smiling, and oh so caring.”