A mum who forgave her husband after their twin babies died when he left them in a hot car as he drove to work – and forgot to take them to nursery – is calling on the US to bring in the Hot Cars Act to stop similar deaths.
Marissa Quattrone Rodriguez said her world ended in July 2019 and now everything in her life is divided into “before and after the twinkies passed”.
Little Luna and Phoenix, a girl and boy, were aged just one when their father, Juan, accidentally forgot to drop them off at daycare before going to work in New York.
Instead, the babies were mistakenly left in the car – where the temperature rose steadily to a deadly heat.
“The moment I heard the news, I honestly could not believe what Juan was telling me was real,” Marissa said.
“I could tell how much panic and pain was in his voice, but I just couldn’t bring myself to believe it.”
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 daycare.
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’.”
It was only after Juan had looked in the rearview 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.
She found the street blocked off with caution tape and officers at the scene wouldn’t allow her near the family car.
As Juan was arrested, Marissa saw an ambulance leaving the scene.
“I asked if they [the babies] were in there,” she said. “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.”
From that moment, Marissa said: “everything shattered”.
“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.
“I struggled with my desire to stay here on earth for a while.”
The devastated mum said 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-a-half years that have passed since the tragedy, Marissa said she had Juan have tried to make a “normal life” for their other children and themselves.
Today, Marissa and Juan are still together – but their relationship is forever, irrevocably changed.
“I realised Juan and I grieve in very different ways. I like to look at photos of happier times. He does not,” Marissa shared, adding there are “many other differences”.
“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.
“I speak to my babies all the time,” she added.
“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.”
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 admitted.
“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.”
And for a while Marissa did leave.
“I took my four-year-old and travelled a bit to not have to be home with the sad memories,” she said.
On the advice of their lawyer, Marissa appeared on the Dr Phil show – something she remains conflicted by.
“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.
And 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.”