The death itself is tragic: A 3-year-old girl died after being trapped in a burning car in Queens on Sunday night. But the circumstances make it hard to fathom: The car doors had been chained shut from the inside, an apparent bid to stop anyone from rescuing her, reports the New York Post. Firefighters also found gasoline canisters and a propane tank inside the car, reports the Daily News. Nearby, authorities discovered the girl's father in a pond, trying to douse flames from his body, reports CNN. Martin Pereira, 39, survived, but he is now in police custody over daughter Zoey's death, which has been ruled a homicide. No charges have yet been filed. Pereira and the girl's mother, Cherone Coleman, had been in an increasingly nasty custody dispute over the girl.
"I should’ve just kept her and gone to jail," Coleman tells the Daily News. She says Pereira had become unhinged recently, making false reports about her, calling her relatives, and threatening that she would never see her daughter again. "I always thought he was going to hurt me," she adds. "I never thought he was going to hurt my daughter." A former co-worker of Periera's tells the New York Times that the custody fight had been making Pereira agitated because he feared the courts would rule against him. "There was a lot of stress building up in him," he says. "It made him explode up like that." (In Illinois, a young boy's parents are charged in his murder.)