The mother of the three-year-old Edmonton girl who died after getting into a hot SUV last week wants to set the record straight about her daughter’s death.
Police ruled the death non-criminal as they believe that Tsi-Tsi Chitekedza climbed into the back seat of the vehicle on her own.
But mother Grace Vela said the public still has an incorrect perception about what happened.
"What I want people to understand — don’t put this vision of this strapped-down three-year old locked in a car when that isn’t the case," Vela told CBC News on Friday.
"That’s not what happened."
Tsi-Tsi died of heat stroke on July 2, an hour after she was found unresponsive in the back seat of the SUV. The temperature was over 30 C that day.
Before she climbed into the vehicle, the girl was playing with a group of friends in front of her family’s northeast Edmonton home, her mother said.
"Police had talked to the neighbours," Vela said. " All our kids play outside, out front and stuff like that. So everyone knows she was out of the house. Everyone had seen her.
"I know as a parent, I asked them, did she struggle? Did she try to get out? They said 'no.' There is no evidence of a struggle, fingerprints around the windows.
"There were kids playing right there. So it’s not like there weren’t any eyewitnesses. Unfortunately, the eyewitnesses are all really small people that just loved playing together."
Vela is upset that the public still believes someone left her daughter behind and that Tsi-Tsi’s five-year-old sister will soon be able to read that misinformation on the internet.
She is also frustrated that her daughter’s death is mentioned in news reports about children who were allegedly left in hot vehicles and that people are making incorrect assumptions when they leave comments on stories.
"We don’t need people witch-hunting us down," Vela said. "We don’t need negative comments thrown our way. Now isn’t the time for it."
A funeral for Tsi-Tsi was held in Vela’s hometown of Toronto this week.
In addition to her five-year-old daughter, Vela has a one-year-old son. Her family plans to soon travel to Zimbabwe to be with relatives.