PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. — When Jacqueline Franchetti hosted a kid-friendly rally on the fifth anniversary of her only child’s murder, there was one mom who really wanted to attend to show her support.
Like Franchetti, Cherone Coleman of Queens had lost a little girl to family violence during a child custody battle.
“She’s the one who’s been reaching out to me for so long,” said Coleman, as she hugged Franchetti in a school parking lot this week. “She’s doing so much to keep her daughter’s name alive; you have to respect that.”
Franchetti runs an organization called Kyra’s Champions, named for her two year old daughter who was “fierce and independent and loved to go fast on the swings.”
Five years ago this week, on July 27, 2016, Kyra’s father, Roy Rumsey, shot the little girl in the back as she slept at his stately home in Virginia. He then set the house on fire, killing both of them.
A Nassau County judge had allowed the father to have unsupervised visits, even though child caseworkers had expressed concerns that he had anger issues.
“I had two Nassau County detectives who showed up at my home,” Franchetti recalled this past Tuesday, the exact five year anniversary of her daughter’s murder. “They asked me what my relationship was to Kyra. And I told them I was her mom. And they told me the news,” Franchetti remembered.
Franchetti turned her deep anguish into activism, researching Family Court law. She was very troubled to learn that 19 New York children have been killed in the state in the last five years during child custody disputes or divorces.
Franchetti is now pushing three bills in the New York State Legislature that would address issues that compromise children’s safety during custody battles.
State Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi of Queens is sponsoring one bill that would become Kyra’s Law, if passed. It would ask judges to prioritize child safety in making custody decisions, instead of being overly concerned with parents feeling alienated.
“There’s things judges and other court personnel need to pick up on,” Hevesi said at the rally in Port Washington. While he acknowledged the work family court judges do, he said more training is needed for these types of situations.
“I think the court is unnecessarily handing over children to abusers,” he said.
Some of the other bills before the legislature call for forensic evaluators in Family Court to receive better training, too.
Franchetti called her event “Kyra’s Rally for Change,” and it brought out the little girl’s first teacher in Port Washington — Linda Quinn, who served as the DJ.
“I was devastated when Kyra died,” Quinn told PIX11. “I’ve been teaching ‘Mommy and Me’ for twenty years; I’ve never lost a student.”
“She was just such a curious, jolly little girl, so happy,” Quinn added.
Members of the group Bikers Against Child Abuse also showed up en masse on their large motorcycles.
“We wanted to be involved, we wanted to be here for her,” the president of the group, Polo, said of Franchetti.
“We contribute to the kids’ empowerment,” said Big D, who told PIX11 the group often works with community organizations.
Cherone Coleman, who lost her daughter Autumn, 3, in a savage incident in May 2019, said Jacqueline Franchetti inspired her to tell her own story to PIX11 last month.
Autumn was with her father, Tony Pereira, on an unsupervised visit, when he chained his car’s back doors near Baisley Pond Park and set the vehicle on fire. The child was burned to death.
Pereira jumped out of the car at the last minute, with burns over 60% of his body, and jumped into a nearby lake. He died in the hospital nine months later.
When we asked Coleman how she felt after telling Autumn’s tragic story, she responded, “The fact I was able to do it made me feel better.”
When we asked Jacqueline Franchetti how she stayed so strong, after losing her own daughter, Kyra, she replied, “I have the option every morning when I wake up. I can pull the covers over my head, or I can fight for her memory and her name. And I choose to get up and fight.”