The mother of 1-year-old twins whom police said died after being left in a hot car by their father for eight hours has issued a statement defending her husband as "a good person and great father."
Marissa Rodriguez is mourning the loss of her twins, Phoenix and Luna, who died after they were left in the car near the veteran's hospital in Fordham Manor in New York City from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. on July 26, police said.
Her husband, Juan Rodriguez, 39, sobbed as he pleaded not guilty on Saturday to two counts each of manslaughter and negligent homicide, according to NBC New York. Rodriguez has been released on $100,000 bail.
"Please respect that we are grieving and completely devastated at this time,'' Marissa Rodriguez said in a statement released to media outlets. "This is my absolute worst nightmare. Everything I do reminds me of my sweet, intelligent, beautiful babies and I am still in disbelief.
"Though I am hurting more than I ever imagined possible, I still love my husband. He is a good person and great father and I know he would've never done anything to hurt our children intentionally. I will never get over this loss and I know he will never forgive himself for this mistake."
The bodies of the two children were 108 degrees when their father found them still strapped to their car seats, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Juan Rodriguez, a social worker and Iraq War veteran, told investigators, "I blanked out, my babies are dead, I killed my babies," according to the criminal complaint released Saturday, NBC New York reported.
"This was a horrific accident, and I need him by my side to go through this together,'' his wife said in her statement. "Luna and Phoenix will always live in our hearts and memories and we are working hard to come to terms with what has happened. We need to grieve, be strong, and be present for our other children."
The organization KidsAndCars.org, a nonprofit dedicating to keeping children safe in vehicles, also issued a statement that defended Juan Rodriguez.
"KidsAndCars.org was devastated to learn that the N.Y. father who unknowingly left his twins in the back seat of his car was charged within hours of finding his children had died,'' president and founder Janette Fennell said in a statement to NBC News. "There certainly was not enough time to conduct a full and thorough investigation before six charges were levied. All indications point to a wonderful, loving father who was unaware that his twins were in his vehicle all day. Tragedies like this can and do happen to doting, responsible, loving parents."
KidsandCars.org is lobbying for a bill requiring all new vehicles to have child alert safety systems to protect children and animals left unattended in vehicles.
More than 900 children have died in hot cars since 1990 and 21 have died this year through July 16, according to KidsAndCars.org.
Fennell recommends these seven tips every parent should follow to avoid the tragedy of their child dying in a hot car, including looking before you lock the doors, purposefully keeping something you need in the back seat, and always keeping the vehicle's doors locked.