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Featured Image Credit: Media Drum World
Twin babies died in a hot car after their father forgot to drop them off at nursery.
Back in 2019, mum Marissa Quattrone Rodriguez was at work when she received a desperate call from her husband, who told her that their babies had died.
Marrissa tells 7Life that the day in July 2019 was the day her world ended. Now, she says, everything is divided into “before and after the twinkies passed”.
Tragically, the babies - one-year-olds Luna and Phoenix - were mistakenly left in 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.”
Husband Juan had spent the day at work, counselling disabled veterans at a hospital. He called Marissa to ask her to pick up the kids from daycare.
“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’.”
Juan had looked in the rearview mirror of his car when he realised to his horror, that he had never taken the babies to their childcare.
Marissa rushed to the scene where an ambulance had already arrived.
“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.
“I struggled with my desire to stay here on earth for a while.”
Both Marissa and Juan have struggled with the guilt over what happened to their children.
“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.
“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”.
“I had to go to the medical office to confirm photos of my babies were actually them,” she 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.
“A few days after they passed we got a bag of items that were in the car.
“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.”
The media attention over what happened was also impossibly difficult.
“All I wanted to do was grieve and I could not because there were news reporters being incredibly invasive, waiting outside the court so we couldn’t get in the car,” the mum adds.
“Waiting at my house so I had to stay elsewhere, they were there for weeks, just hoping to take photos of us, and they did.
“We had to get clothes and items so I had to go eventually, they were ringing my doorbell, calling my phone from unknown numbers, writing anything they thought was true, even when it wasn’t.”
Today, Marissa and Juan are still together - although their relationship has completely changed.
“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. 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 did not go to 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.”
Marissa did leave for a little while, but as time passed, 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.”
Marissa is adamant that more can be done to help prevent similar tragic accidents - such as 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.
David Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida, has spoken about how this kind of incident can occur.
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 has previously explained.
“Each parent’s brain appears to have created the false memory that he or she had brought the child to daycare.
“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.”