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Adrian Walker

A grieving mother aches for answers

Virginie Cazir, in her apartment yesterday, wiped away tears talking about her son’s death Monday in a transport van. Virginie Cazir, in her apartment yesterday, wiped away tears talking about her son’s death Monday in a transport van. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / September 15, 2011

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Virginie Cazir got her first premonition that something horrible had happened from television.

Monday afternoon, shortly before her toddler son Gabriel Josh-Cazir Pierre was due from day care, she saw a chilling alert: A baby boy had been found in a school van outside a day-care center on Floyd Street in Dorchester.

Baby boy. Day care. Dorchester.

Her panic was immediate.

“I knew right away it sounded like my son,’’ she said yesterday, in her first comments on the tragedy. She ran across the street to the bus stop on Fuller Street, where she retrieved him every day after work as a nurse assistant, hoping, but doubting. She called the woman who runs her son’s day care, who wasn’t picking up her calls.

The van never arrived.

And her fears were realized when Boston police officers came to her door, with one question: What was your son wearing when he left home?

“That’s when I definitely knew it was my son,’’ she said through sobs. “That’s when I knew he wasn’t coming home.’’

They wanted her to identify the body. But she immediately fell ill and was taken to Boston Medical Center, for treatment of hypertension. Only after her condition stabilized could she perform the worst task that can be thrust on a parent.

Through some unspeakable tragedy, Gabriel was picked up for day care Monday, then, unthinkably, forgotten.

Cazir said her son was picked up about 8:30 in the morning, and discovered about 3:30 p.m. in the back of a van parked outside a day-care center he did not attend.

Gabriel’s day-care center, Cazir said, is just off Washington Street. She said she never had any notice that her son had not arrived as scheduled, a step that many child-care centers take. She never knew anything was wrong until she turned on the television, to pass a few minutes before she picked up her son.

She sat in her tidy living room yesterday, surrounded by pictures of family, including a tiny boy with a huge smile. Friends and family came and went, passing out water, doing their best to offer consolation.

Cazir lit up when asked to describe Gabriel. “He was a very joyful little boy,’’ she said of the 17-month-old. “He would run up on you. He’s just started walking, and he’s always running around. He’s one of those kids you have to put on a leash!’’

That switch from past tense to present will be familiar to many people who have grappled with a sudden, shocking absence.

Sudden tragedy often makes people wonder if they might have done anything differently, and this is no exception. By cruel coincidence, Gabriel’s godmother, Mayra Welsh, lives on Floyd Street, a few doors down from the day-care center.

Sitting near her close friend Cazir, Welsh explained that she had seen the van Monday - twice. She saw the van in its usual spot about 9 a.m. when she was leaving for work, when poor Gabriel was inside. She wishes she had thought to look inside.

When she got back around 4, the van was still there, but surrounded by emergency vehicles.

“That’s when I heard people saying, ‘There’s a baby in the van,’ ’’ Welsh said. “I never once thought it was my godson in the car. Some people are drawn to disasters. I’m the opposite. This is one time I wish I’d gone against my instincts and looked inside.’’

Cazir said she has not heard from the driver of the van or the operator of his usual day-care center, the one who never noticed her child was missing. “I haven’t heard from anyone,’’ she said, barely audible.

Cazir and her relatives say they want to prevent this from occurring to any other family. Already, they are talking about “Gabriel’s Law,’’ a measure to bring legal force to regulations meant to keep children from disappearing. Day-care van drivers are supposed to sweep their vans, making sure no one is left on board; Cazir and her relatives want to make that a law.

“They really want to make sure that this never happens to another family,’’ said Ernst Guerrier, the family’s lawyer.

Greater vigilance isn’t all.

“I don’t want any more tinted windows,’’ Cazir sad, sobbing. “If the windows hadn’t been tinted, someone would have seen him.’’

If only. If only.

There will be a candlelight vigil Monday night on Floyd Street to celebrate Gabriel’s all-too-brief life, and a memorial fund for his family will be established in the next few days. Those are important, but they are not what Virginie Cazir yearns for.

“I just want justice to be done,’’ she said. “I just want answers. I just want someone to tell me what happened.’’

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at