Girl, 5, fatally struck in school parking lot had already fought cancer in her short life, family friend says

A friend of the Toronto family whose five-year-old daughter was fatally struck in a school drop-off area says the little girl was in remission after cancer treatment. Ana Paula Carrera says although the parents are heartbroken, she’s struck by their strength and faith.

Ana Paula Carrera describes 5-year-old Camila Torcato, who died Monday, as an 'angel'

Family friend Ana Paula Carrera was struck by how strong and soft five-year-old Camila Torcato's hair was. It recently grew back, after the little girl successfully underwent chemo treatment, beginning at the age of three. (Catarina Rodrigues/Facebook)

A little Toronto girl, who died in hospital Monday after being crushed by an SUV in a drop-off area at an elementary school, was recently given a clean bill of health after fighting cancer since the age of three.

"She was definitely an angel," said Ana Paula Carrera of five-year-old Camila Torcato.

Carrera, a family friend and a mother herself who has been with the grieving family every day this week, told CBC Toronto on Wednesday she finds herself thinking about a conversation that the little girl's mother, Catarina Rodrigues, had repeated to her.  

Catarina Rodrigues with her daughter, Camila Torcato, who fought cancer from the age of three and was in remission last year. (Catarina Rodrigues/Facebook)

Carrera said the child told her mother, speaking in Portuguese, "Mom, I'm not a normal child. I'm different than everyone else," and words to the effect of "I'm not of this world."

On Monday at around 3:30 p.m. ET, Camila was about to climb into the family's minivan at St. Raphael Catholic School in North York when an unoccupied vehicle rolled into the little girl and her father, Amilcar Torcato. Camila was rushed to SickKids, where she died of her injuries. Her father was also briefly hospitalized and released.  

Carrera said this week she finds herself remembering a moment with the little girl just before Christmas. She was cuddling the child in her lap in the living room of the Torcato home in the predominantly Italian-Portuguese neighbourhood near Lawrence and Dufferin.  

The little girl was showing her some toys and makeup videos on her mother's cellphone.

Carrera, herself the mother of four boys, said, laughing, "There is no makeup in my house."

Ana Paula Carrera, a friend of the Torcato family, said she is moved by the family's love and strength in the days following the tragic loss of five-year-old Camila.

Carrera remembers being struck by the little girl's hair. "Earlier she had lost all her hair because of the cancer treatment," said Carrera. "I keep remembering the feel of her skin. It was so soft and I was thinking how soft and strong her hair was again." 

Carrera got to know the family in the first few years after Camila was born, living a few doors up the street. There were more boys on the street than girls so Carrera says Camila was always playing with boys.

A backyard party last summer, when Camila was back on her feet after having a cancerous kidney removed. (Ana Paula Carrera)

"She was very adventurous," said Carrera, "but she was also always careful, watching the little ones. She'd warn me, 'Nicholas (Carrera's youngest son) is on the slide, or the baby put something in his mouth.' She was always concerned about other little kids." 

Camila's parents are heartbroken, said Carrera. "But I see they're very strong. I see the love as a family, when you're seeing them together, that somehow Camila still gives to them."

Camila, as a toddler, on the beach with her parents, Amilcar Torcato and Catarina Rodrigues.

Police are still investigating what happened at the school's drop-off area. 

Brian Patterson, head of the Ontario Safety League, also visited the scene of the accident at St. Raphael School.

Speaking on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday, Patterson says he's attended many meetings to raise safety issues around school pickup areas. Even when they're marked, he says they are often the most dangerous part of a child's trip to school.

"The last five minutes of a child's travel, they're probably in the riskiest zone as people come speeding in, speeding out, attempting to make up time," Patterson said. 

"Dropping off the heir to the family fortune is the most important thing on their mind, not the 100 or so other kids that are going to move through that space in the same time that they are there."

A makeshift memorial at St. Raphael Catholic School in Toronto where Camila was pinned between two vehicles, later dying in hospital. (Linda Ward/CBC)

A GoFundMe page for the family has raised more than $30,000. The post cites the double tragedy of Camila's short life, dealing with cancer at three, only to be killed at five.

"The only thing that we can believe is that she was a true angel," the page reads.

"The people who really suffer from these type of events are the parents who have to live on without their child and they deserve all the support that they can get so they can find peace, without the financial stress that our society can create.'

"A lot of people are trying to help them," said Carrera. "They don't want a funeral. They might just have Camila in the funeral home."

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-1900, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at www.222tips.com, or text TOR and a message to CRIMES (274637).

About the Author

Mary Wiens

Journalist/ Producer | Metro Morning

Mary Wiens is a veteran broadcaster and a regular on Metro Morning. Her wide-ranging beat includes stories that are sometimes tragic, often funny, occasionally profound and always human. Work that is often honoured with RTDNA awards (The Association of Electronic Journalists). One of her favourite places - Yonge Street. "It's the heart and soul of Toronto," says Wiens. "Toronto's Main Street!"