A New York mother who forgave her husband after her accidentally killed their one-year-old twins has said she initially ‘didn’t care’ that her partner was on suicide watch because she was ‘so angry’.
Little Luna and Phoenix, a girl and boy, were aged just one when their father, Juan Rodriguez, accidentally forgot to drop them at day care before going to work an eight-hour shift at a veterans hospital in the Bronx in July 2019.
They were trapped in the back of a hot car all day – and when Juan found them they were dead and ‘foaming at the mouth’.
Their mother, Marissa Quattrone Rodriguez, said it was a ‘hopeful’ and ‘happy’ day the morning the twins passed away as she was going to take them to the beach for the first time that weekend. She now says her life is divided into ‘before and after the twinkies passed’.
She has stayed with her husband and says she doesn’t blame him for the devastating event – but admits the couple’s relationship is ‘changed forever’ and that her six-year-old son is her ‘hero’ and is the ‘only reason’ she’s coped for the last two and a half years.
Marissa Rodriguez, from New York has stayed with her husband Juan Rodriguez who accidentally killed their twins in 2019 after leaving them in a hot car
Juan Rodriguez, accidentally forgot to drop his twins at day care before going to work an eight-hour shift at a veterans hospital in the Bronx in July 2019
‘I realized Juan and I grieve in very different ways. I like to look at photos of happier times. He does not,’ she says.
‘But we are both in agreement that we focus on the twins’ lives, their birthdays and fun memories, and try not to focus on their death or the loss.
Juan avoided prison after pleading guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment – with the judge calling the case a ‘tragic, unfortunate incident’.
‘I was definitely not always supportive of Juan,’ Marissa admits. ‘I was very angry at a lot of people. And when Juan was released from jail they appointed me as his “watch” to make sure he did not kill himself.
‘I admit at the time, I don’t think I cared what he did. I was pushed and pulled in different directions and I just wanted to leave.’
‘I took my four-year-old and travelled a bit to not have to be home with the sad memories,’ she says.
Marissa had been at work when Juan, who had spent the day counselling disabled veterans at a hospital, called her to tell her to pick up the kids from daycare
As time passed, Marissa says her ‘anger lessened’ and her ‘understanding grew’ the couple are pictured on their wedding day
But as time passed, Marissa says her ‘anger lessened’ and her ‘understanding grew’.
‘I know Juan would have never hurt our children intentionally. My goal was then to keep him out of jail.’
‘I speak to my babies all the time,’ she adds.
‘I have songs that remind me of them and signs that I see. It could all be in my head, but it comforts me to think that’s their way of sending me love.’
She had been at work when Juan, who had spent the day counselling disabled veterans at a hospital, called her to tell her to pick up the kids from day care.
Juan avoided prison after pleading guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment – with the judge calling the case a ‘tragic, unfortunate incident’. The twins are pictured
In the two and half years that have passed since the tragedy, Marissa says she had Juan have tried to make a ‘normal life’ for their other children and themselves. The family are pictured
It wasn’t an unusual request. The pair communicated about who would collect the children on a regular basis.
‘I said no problem, and carried on with my work,’ Marissa recalls.
‘I was on a work-related call, when he called back just a moment later, so I missed his call. But I saw he left a message, which he never does, and then he called me again. Clearly it was an emergency.
‘I answered that time to hear him repeatedly say: “My love, oh my God, my love… I killed the babies”. He said the same thing over and over. And I just kept saying “no, no, no. It’s not true”.’
Marissa is adamant that something can be done – with the implementation of a Hot Car Act in the US – she is pictured with the family before her son’s death
The devastated mum says she ‘honestly doesn’t know’ where she would be if it weren’t for her now six-year-old son. The family are pictured
It was only after Juan had looked in the rear-view mirror of his Honda sedan after his shift that he realised he’d never taken the babies to childcare that day.
Marissa ran out of her office and drove towards where Juan worked.
What is Forgotten Baby Syndrome?
How could a father possibly forget his children were in the car?
It’s a question David Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida, has been determined to answer.
According to David, this type of memory failure is the result of a ‘competition between the brain’s ‘habit memory’ system and its ‘prospective memory’ system’.
‘And the habit memory system prevails,’ David previously explained.
Having studied numerous cases of children left in cars, David has made a ‘universal observation’.
‘Each parent’s brain appears to have created the false memory that he or she had brought the child to daycare,’ David wrote.
‘This scientific anomaly explains why these parents went about their routine activities, which even included telling others that they needed to leave work on time to retrieve their child from daycare.
Having this ‘false memory’ caused them to be oblivious to the fact that their child had remained in the car all day.’
Despite there being a scientific explanation for the tragedy, both Marissa and Juan are tormented by the feeling that they ‘failed’ their babies.
‘Our job as parents is to protect our children. He feels like he failed them, and though the loss was not my fault, I feel I failed them too,’ Marissa says.
‘I am left with so many ‘why?’ and ‘what if?’ questions.’
She found the street blocked off with caution tape and officers at the scene wouldn’t allow her near the family car.
‘The moment I heard the news, I honestly could not believe what Juan was telling me was real,’ Marissa recalls.
‘I could tell how much panic and pain was in his voice, but I just couldn’t bring myself to believe it.’
As Juan was arrested Marissa saw an ambulance leaving the scene.
‘I asked if they [the babies] were in there,’ she says. ‘They were not, which I knew, but just couldn’t believe it.
‘I wanted so much to think there was some hope. I never knew about this before.
‘Never knew so many babies passed this way. Never heard of Forgotten Baby Syndrome prior to this happening. I just didn’t think this could happen to us.’
‘All my hopes and dreams for them, for our family, for my son to grow up with siblings close in age to him, for their beautiful, bright futures….’ she says.
‘I struggled with my desire to stay here on earth for a while.’
The devastated mum says she ‘honestly doesn’t know’ where she would be if it weren’t for her now six-year-old son.
‘I try not to put pressure on him, but I have told him he is my hero multiple times,’ she admits.
In the two and half years that have passed since the tragedy, Marissa says she had Juan have tried to make a ‘normal life’ for their other children and themselves.
‘But nothing can bring back the genuine hope and happiness we once possessed,’ she says.
‘There is never a time now that we simply experience joy, without it hurting a little that they are not here being a part of it.’
When she looks back, Marissa says the first few months after the tragedy passed in a ‘fog’.
At first, all she wanted to do was ‘crawl under a rock and disappear’.
But there was the agony of a funeral to arrange, a lawyer to hire and the torment of telling her then four-year-old son that he’d never see his brother and sister again.
‘I had to go to the medical office to confirm photos of my babies were actually them,’ Marissa says.
‘They looked horrible in the photos. Images I will never be able to get out of my head. Something I wish no one would ever have to experience.’
There were also haunting reminders at every turn.
Juan Rodriguez hugs his wife Marissa Rodriguez as he leaves Bronx Criminal Court after posting a $100K bond in the death of his two children
‘A few days after they passed we got a bag of items that were in the car,’ Marissa remembers.
‘The first thing I saw was one shoe each of theirs. I have kept them with me since that day, everywhere I go, the shoes go.’
‘Friends tell me I had conversations with them that I have no recollection of,’ Marissa says.
‘I have also lost some friends along the way. One person told me they don’t know how to speak with me, they don’t know what to say. That hurts.
‘And there have also been new people in my life that I now consider close friends because they have been there during my darkest moments.’
On the advice of their lawyer, Marissa appeared on the Dr Phil show – something she remains conflicted by.
Marissa, pictured while pregnant with the twins, says ‘We are, unfortunately, family now. The group that no parent wants to ever join.’
‘They were all more interested in ratings and pulling on the heartstrings of viewers than getting the point across that something has to be done and can in fact be done really easily to prevent this,’ she says.
Marissa is adamant that something can be done – with the implementation of a Hot Car Act in the US.
The act would require all new vehicles to be equipped with technology that detects if someone is still inside after the engine is switched off. If so, an alert would be sent to the driver and others close to the car – in a bid to stop injuries and death by heatstroke.
It’s technology that Marissa hopes can be used across the world – including in Australia where each year more than 5,000 children are rescued after being left unattended in a car.
‘We both certainly hope that the Hot Cars Act is passed and that the safety measure mandates to detect life in vehicles are utilised outside of the US,’ Marissa says.
‘I am available to speak with any parent who has gone through a similar tragedy,’ she says.
‘We are, unfortunately, family now. The group that no parent wants to ever join.’