From pursuit to pursuit to job, a life lived _ and lost

October 27, 2014 - Finding Carter

In this Sept. 5, 2014 photo, Glen Carter, a 33-year-old Army veteran, morns as a box of his partner Maria Fernandes is lowered into a belligerent during her wake use in Linden, N.J. Fernandes died while defunct in her automobile between one of her 3 jobs. Police pronounced it appears Fernandes was overcome by a lethal reduction of CO monoxide and smoke from an overturned gasoline container. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

— The fumes, fetid of gasoline, poured from a white Kia SUV as shortly as an puncture medical technician pennyless one of a behind windows. Inside, a physique of a dark-haired immature lady with a beauty symbol on her left impertinence reclined in a driver’s seat, keys swinging from a ignition.

But who was she? How was it that her life had finished here, in a dilemma of a preference store parking lot, reduction than a mile south of Newark Liberty International Airport’s runways?

Waiting for a vapors to transparent so they could hunt her belongings, military remarkable a many apparent clue: She was wearing a informed white-and-brown uniform. By that night, co-workers and friends had identified her as Maria Leonor Fernandes, 32 years aged and single, who worked smallest salary jobs during 3 circuitously Dunkin’ Donuts shops — mostly grabbing an hour or dual of snooze in her automobile between shifts.

Within days, Fernandes was being mourned as a comfortless heroine, a plant of a times. Far over a Newark area where she rented a groundwork room with bath for $550 a month, her genocide became provender for online commentary. People speculated, mistakenly, that she had been vital in a U.S. illegally, or had committed suicide. Mostly, they forked to her as a misadventure of complicated economics that forced someone to work so tough for so tiny money.

“The genocide of Maria Fernandes final a call to action,” a personality of a AFSCME labor kinship wrote in an online editorial, days after her death.

By a time friends filed past a open box in that Fernandes was laid out in a sequined, carmine dress, some had had enough. There was some-more to her life, they said, than a approach she mislaid it.

The Maria Fernandes they wanted to remember was kind, maybe too generous, and desired to speak — so many so that a family she once lived with nicknamed her “Radio.” Her devotion of Michael Jackson was so heated that when a thespian died in 2009, she called her boss, sobbing, to tell him she indispensable time off to fly to California for a wake — even yet she knew he was vacationing in Turkey and a hour was flourishing late. Fernandes worked hard, she died tragically, yet she was no martyr.

“Maria did not lose!” a friend, Rochelle Sylvestre, pronounced in her eulogy. “Society has a approach of looking down during people who try to make ends meet, who find above a smallest wage. Maria won that battle! She is still winning!”


Maria Fernandes’ operative life tracked a delicately choreographed schedule. From 2 to 9 p.m. many days she staffed a opposite during a Dunkin’ kiosk inside Newark’s categorical sight station. Then she headed to a second shop, open around a time in downtown Linden, where she worked from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, she combined an 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. change during a third emporium in Harrison, picking adult additional hours when asked.

In Harrison, she customarily worked during a sandwich credentials station, chatting with associate employees, infrequently display them snapshots. Alaaddin Abuawada, a co-worker who also binds a second pursuit during a preservation shop, pronounced Fernandes mostly seemed exhausted.

When business was slow, she slumped on cartons in a kitchen for 15-minute naps. She slept in her automobile before streamer to her subsequent shift. When co-workers called her name for help, she jokingly answered, “No.”

Abuawada pronounced he once told her that she was murdering herself. “She said, ‘I need a money. we have a lot of bills,'” he recalled.

Fernandes was not a complainer, yet this was not a life she had expected.

More than a decade ago, she told friends she wanted to be an actress, had black-and-white broadside photos taken and took a sight to New York to find auditions. She wrote her sister in Portugal that she wanted to be a military officer. She talked about going to propagandize to be a beautician. And, before Michael Jackson died, she spoke mostly about her enterprise to accommodate him.

“She would contend she was going to marry him,” crony Cristina Ribau Orama said. “And a approach she pronounced it, it was like it was going to happen.”

Fernandes had come a prolonged approach to pursue those dreams. She was innate in Fall River, Massachusetts, to Portuguese newcomer parents. Her father, Antonio, worked as a welder and his wife, 28 years his junior, worked in a factory. When Fernandes was 11 her father late and changed a family to Gafanha da Encarnacao, his hometown of 5,000 on Portugal’s Atlantic coast.

“She was kind of mislaid in this tiny city that was not hers,” pronounced Olinda Moreira, a half-sister who lives in a circuitously city of Aveiro.

Fernandes’ Portuguese was unsure and colored heavily by a chapter of her mother’s hometown in a Azores islands. It was tough anticipating friends in a city where many younger residents had changed divided for work. Her father was a unrelenting disciplinarian with tiny calm for a daughter who spent hours examination “The X-Files” on television; he frowned on her speak of relocating behind to a United States, alone, during slightest until she was 18.

In a summer of 1995, Fernandes was biking by a encampment when she speckled a Volkswagen Jetta with New Jersey permit plates and introduced herself to owners Jose Ribau, visiting his hometown from Newark. That seeded friendships with Ribau’s daughters, one a same age as Fernandes and a other 4 years younger, renewed any Jul when they returned to Portugal.

Six years later, Fernandes seemed though any notice during a Ribaus’ gray-shingled residence in north Newark, lugging a suitcase. She was 19.

“She said, ‘Oh, I’m here from Portugal. we wanted to come to America,” Orama recalled, with a faraway smile. “She always talked about entrance to a U.S. It was only a matter of time.”


Fernandes went behind to Portugal once, for 3 months, to work during a bakery her father had opened. But afterwards she returned to New Jersey for good.

Eventually, she found a pursuit behind a opposite during Calandra’s bakery, where she done review with business in Spanish and French as good as English and Portuguese and bought co-workers birthday and holiday gifts, like a Betty Boop lava flare for her supervisor.

Fernandes was a dedicated worker, well-liked on a afternoon shift. But in 2010 managers beheld when she began articulate about wanting some-more income to assistance support a new boyfriend’s children and took on a second pursuit during a Dunkin’ Donuts shop.

Soon, “she was entrance in late. She wouldn’t uncover up,” pronounced Billy Ulkumen, a bakery’s manager. Supervisors talked to Fernandes about her lateness. Eventually, she motionless to quit, he said.

She had met a beloved online. Posting a criticism on a MySpace page of an actor, Don Henrie — who played a Vampire impression on a ephemeral existence TV array “Mad Mad House” — Fernandes connected with a associate fan, Richard Culhane.

When Culhane mislaid his New York construction pursuit a few months later, Fernandes urged him to pierce to Newark, yet they’d never met. She found him an unit and paid his initial month’s rent. Eventually they changed in together, with Fernandes picking adult a $600 monthly expense, scarcely double her prior rent, he said.

Culhane still sounds nonplussed by her generosity. She bought a tent and explained that it was for a homeless male she saw nearby work. When Culhane’s mom died, Fernandes bought him and his 3 sons suits for a funeral. After they pennyless adult final year, she continued to stop by with videogames for a boys.

“Before she left, she was profitable roughly all of it,” Culhane pronounced of a couple’s bills. “She was like, ‘I’ll take caring of you,'” he said.

It was not always smooth. Culhane pronounced Fernandes was lustful of his boys, yet was impressed by a sound they caused. In 2011, a couple’s landlord filed eviction papers when Fernandes fell behind, nonetheless she was means to work out a compensation plan. A neighbor says a integrate fought frequently, infrequently withdrawal Fernandes in tears.

Culhane’s 3 immature sons are from an progressing marriage. He pronounced a state girl insurance workman told him that if he wanted control he indispensable a bigger apartment. He and Fernandes found a three-bedroom for $1,100 a month and she took on a second pursuit — supplementing compensate from a bakery with gain during a Dunkin’ Donuts — to cover bills, he said.

When she quit a bakery, she picked adult hours during a second Dunkin’ Donuts and afterwards a third. Co-workers pronounced all her jobs paid during or only above a smallest salary — that New Jersey lifted by $1 progressing this year to $8.25 an hour.

“I told her over and over, ‘Quit one. You’re operative too much,” Culhane said. “But she said, ‘No, I’m used to it now.'”


Friends contend they never got plain answers from Fernandes about since she worked so many or, given her ability with languages, since she didn’t pursue a opposite job.

Some of Fernandes’ losses reflected choices. Friends relate a series of instances when she gave them income or handed over a withdraw label to assistance compensate for food or travel. Along with her Chihuahua and 3 cats — a latter all named for Greek gods — Fernandes bought food for area strays.

Last year she bought a 2001 Kia for $1,000, replacing a buses and trains she’d used to commute. Like so many else, she common it generously.

“I substantially put some-more miles on it than she did,” pronounced crony and co-worker Armando Gonzalez, who infrequently borrowed a automobile to revisit his family in Connecticut.

But a Kia indispensable repairs. Last December, Fernandes brought it in to Newark’s Go Tire for $700 in work, seeking owners Richard Fernandez for time to compensate a check since she indispensable income to buy Christmas gifts.

“It took a tiny longer than expected, yet we accepted so we wasn’t perplexing to pull her too much,” a garage owners said. Two months later, Fernandes walked in with a income to settle a check and retrieved her automobile from a mechanic’s lot.

And afterwards there was a income she spent to pursue her unrestrained for all things Michael Jackson.

She was one of 8 or 9 women — now in their 20s to 40s and sparse by New York and New Jersey — who met and trafficked together to applaud a singer. They dubbed themselves LOTP, after a Jackson 5 tune, “Life of a Party.” On Facebook, a lady who served solidified coffee Coolatas behind a Dunkin’ opposite called herself “Maria Jackson Fernandes.”

After Jackson died, members of LOTP trafficked to California any Jun to revisit his wake site during Forest Lawn Cemetery and his Neverland estate. Fernandes saved for months to make a trip. Friends who were not partial of a organisation called it an infatuation. But in a video filmed outward Jackson’s monolith this past Jun and posted to YouTube, Fernandes talked about how many a thespian meant to her.

“You wish to mangle down and cry yet you’re in open and, we know, this is as tighten as I’m ever going to get to him, ever,” she pronounced in a video. “To me, when we contend you’re not alone, it literally means Michael is always there.”

Fernandes’ paychecks done a trips possible. While it’s not transparent accurately how many she earned, she worked during slightest 87 hours any week, and some friends contend even more. That would proportion to totally yearly income of $36,000, presumption dual weeks off.

But work also increasingly singular a time she had. For a final integrate of years, when LOTP met for a Christmas sleepover during crony Shelly Block’s residence in New Jersey, Fernandes stayed an hour or dual before withdrawal for work. This past Jun — a fifth anniversary of Jackson’s genocide — she told a other women she wouldn’t be means to make it to California, afterwards astounded them by display adult during a tomb before declining during day’s end.

“Honestly, we can tell we this, Michael is what kept her going,” pronounced Dar ‘Shay White, one of a members of LOTP. “She told me a lot how she was sad, how she was sleepy … But she knew what she was operative for — to get to California, to see Michael.”


Early this year, Fernandes combined a form on a dating website, “Clueless,” she called herself.

Her self-description as an animal partner meddlesome in a abnormal and sentimental for a 1980s held a eye of Glen Carter, a 33-year-old Army maestro operative during a Pennsylvania association that builds animal rescue vehicles.

“We were on a phone constantly from day one,” Carter said. “I wasn’t expecting, we know, to have any critical attribute with her. It’s only we was articulate to her and a some-more we talked, a some-more we connected.”

As a summer began, they concluded to be a couple. Carter, in a routine of a divorce and carrying difficulty creation subsistence payments, pronounced he speedy Fernandes to revisit and cruise relocating to Pennsylvania. But a thought was cemented when Fernandes took 3 days off from work in early Aug and they met for a initial time, holding Carter’s daughter to Hersheypark. On their final day together, a manager from one of a doughnut shops called Fernandes to ask her to come in to work, he said.

White pronounced she speedy Fernandes to pierce to Pennsylvania, indicating out that there was tiny gripping her in Newark. But Fernandes was uncertain. If she left, she told her friend, managers during a doughnut shops competence be left short-handed.

Back home, Fernandes kept adult a schedule, putting off another revisit to Carter since she didn’t have income for gas. She worked so many that landlady Amelia Resende infrequently went dual weeks though saying Fernandes, who rented a groundwork room in her house. Five or 6 times in a past year, Resende said, she came outward to find Fernandes defunct in a driver’s chair with a automobile running, once during 3 a.m.

“This is no good, Maria, no good,” Resende pronounced she told Fernandes.

“I’m sorry, Amelia. I’m so tired,” she pronounced Fernandes answered as she helped her out of a car.

Inside, Resende noticed, Fernandes indifferent a lounge bed for her cats, swelling blankets for herself on a floor.


Fifteen mins before morning on Monday, Aug. 25, Fernandes finished her overnight shift, punctuating a round-the-clock weekend of work. “I’ll see we tomorrow,” she told a co-worker on a morning shift. Halfway home, she pulled in to a parking lot of a Wawa preference store. The store’s video notice camera available a time as 6:27 a.m.

“U can call if we like,” she texted Carter only as he got to work. The integrate talked about a day only finished and a one ahead. Fernandes pronounced she was formulation to go to a gym before going behind to work.

Then Carter hung adult to start his possess job. Fernandes slanted behind a driver’s seat, withdrawal a engine running, a windows adult and a doors locked, to locate adult on much-needed sleep.

She never woke up.

The Wawa lot is renouned with clothing drivers, who stop to snooze between airfield pickups. It wasn’t until 3:51 p.m. that a store worker finishing his change beheld that a lady he’d seen sleeping in a automobile that morning was still there. Inside a vehicle, military found a gas can that Fernandes kept behind a behind seat, sloping over and leaking. Fernandes’ genocide was caused by transformation of gas vapors and was accidental, a Union County Medical Examiner would determine.

Women from LOTP lifted $6,000 to compensate for Fernandes’ funeral. At a cemetery, reduction than a mile from a doughnut emporium where she worked her final shift, mourners stepped brazen to lay roses and sunflowers on her cream-colored casket.

“Wait! Wait! Wait!” White sobbed, stabbing her heels into a belligerent as workers lowered a coffin.

Then, slowly, mourners drifted divided — Culhane and his sons in a wake suits Fernandes had bought for them, members of LOTP disposition on one another’s shoulders.

Standing beside a grave, Fernandes’ co-worker, Armando Gonzalez, glanced down during his watch. There was only adequate time, he said, to run home, change from his slacks and tie into his informed white-and-brown uniform and news for a 3 p.m. shift.

“We’ve got to keep living, we know?”


Adam Geller can be reached during Follow him on Twitter during

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