In March, Cherone Coleman decided to end her relationship with her fiancé, Martin Pereira. The pair had a 3-year-old daughter, Zoey, and a bitter custody battle began. Coleman was concerned about Pereira, claiming he was becoming increasingly unstable. However, despite her concerns, a judge ordered that Pereira take Zoey to his home, a decision that proved fatal for Zoey.
As the New York couple battled for custody of Zoey in a Queens courtroom, the judge issued an order, telling 39-year-old Pereira to take Zoey to his Long Island home over the last weekend, according to a report by the Washington Post.
On Sunday night, a 2008 Audi A6 burst into flames. Pereira was seen fleeing from the vehicle, with flames making their way up his body. He hopped into a nearby pond to extinguish himself.
“I have my kid in the car,” Pereira reportedly told firefighters when they arrived. When firefighters made it to the burning sedan, they soon realized that an accident was probably not to blame for the inferno. Instead, they suspected a crime took place.
According to reports, Zoey was found strapped into a car seat in the vehicle. Chains were used on the inside of the car to keep the rear doors shut, stopping anyone from being able to make their way into the backseat.
Gasoline was splattered in the interior of the vehicle. A propane tank in the trunk was also feeding the fire.
Zoey was transported to the hospital once she was freed from the car. She was later pronounced dead.
Pereira was also transported to a hospital for treatment of his injuries and then taken into police custody.
Hours before the fire, Pereira allegedly told 36-year-old Coleman, “You’ll never see your daughter again.”
“I should’ve just kept her and gone to jail,” said Coleman during an interview after the incident.
Law enforcement has ruled Zoey’s death a homicide. Investigators reportedly believe that Pereira set the fire on purpose.
Angel Rivera, Pereira’s former coworker, said that Pereira had become increasingly angry as the custody battle raged on and that the father believed the courts were against him. Pereira also thought that Coleman was exposing Zoey to marijuana smoke.
“There was a lot of stress building up in him,” said Rivera. “It made him explode up like that.”
Over the weekend, Coleman says that Pereira took Zoey to a Long Island children’s hospital, claiming that Coleman was abusing their daughter.
“He was calling me a drug dealer and a drug addict,” said Coleman. While she denied the allegations, hospital staff allowed Pereira to leave with Zoey based on the visitation paperwork.
“They let him leave with her because he had all the paperwork stating he had visitation,” Coleman stated.
Pereira repeatedly tried to call Coleman on Sunday. When she did not answer, he contacted Coleman’s cousins and allegedly made threatening remarks about his daughter.
Coleman then called Pereira.
“Just before he burned my daughter, he called saying crazy things,” said Coleman. “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 called the police, but it was too late.
“I always thought he was going to hurt me,” said Coleman. “I never thought he was going to hurt my daughter.”