The aunt of a toddler whose father allegedly left her in a chained-shut car to burn a live in New York has spoken out.
Zoey Pereira, 3, was pulled from the burning Audi Quattro on May 5 at an intersection near JFK airport and rushed to Jamaica Hospital where she was pronounced dead, according to reports.
Earlier, her father Martin Pereira, 39, had fled the scene in flames, dousing himself in a nearby pond where first-responders found him, pulled him out, and took him to hospital under police custody as a person of interest.
On Monday, May 6, police ruled Zoey’s death as a homicide, reported the New York Post. But Pereira, who was being treated at Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan for second- and third-degree burns, has not been charged as of Monday evening.
Zoey’s aunt told the Post that she believes Pereira is responsible for the toddler’s death.
“He killed a baby. He burned her alive. He did that to her. That’s not even human, that’s an animal. That’s a coward,” she said.
Law enforcement sources said the man and the girl’s mother were engaged in a bitter custody dispute over the girl, according to the New York Daily News. The source said they do not live together and have a limited history of domestic violence.
Sources told the Post that Zoey was strapped into an infant seat in the back of the car while its rear doors were chained shut from the inside—one door to the other so that neither could be opened.
Moreover, the car had been doused in gasoline and a propane tank in the trunk was leaking into the back seat. A second tank was found outside the vehicle, according to the Post, citing sources.
Firefighters struggled to get Zoey out of the car and were only able to rescue her after the door handles that the chains were locked onto had melted.
Witnesses described the incident as some sort of explosion.
“I heard a boom, like something explode. When I came out, I saw smoke,” witness Lisa Silvera, 50, told the Daily News.
Another eyewitness said she saw a man running from the scene engulfed in flames, who ran to a nearby pond to put out the fire, before first-responders found him.
“He was on a stretcher, he’s burned,” Silvera told the Post. “He looked white. So burned. With a mask on his face.”
The Epoch Times reporter Simon Veazey contributed to this report.