According to Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, the mother, 44-year-old Joy Collins, had urged her little son and daughter to cross the tracks because they were hurrying to catch a bus on the other side.
The eight-year-old girl, Joyanna Harris, was reluctant to cross the tracks but witnesses heard Collins yelling at her children to hurry up and cross the track or they would not catch the bus, Dyer said.
At the moment Joyanna was under the train, it started moving and she was killed.
Dyer said the mother had told police she had directed her children to cross the track by crawling under the train carriage or over it on seven other occasions.
Collins had been contacted by the Department of Child Protective Services in the past, Dyer said.
The tragedy has shaken many.
"My head is still spinning trying to grasp what was going on other than that I'm thanking God that my kids all made it home tonight," said Fresno resident David Hunt.
Still in shock, David Hunt describes seeing the unthinkable sight of the little girl trapped beneath a train.
"What I saw when I walked up there I was not prepared for there was nothing that could prepare me for what I've seen," said Hunt.
It was just before 6 p.m. on Monday when Fresno Police was called to the BNSF tracks at Diana and Belmont in Central Fresno.
They say though they're still gathering details surrounding the circumstances witnesses tell them several children were playing on the tracks while a freight train was stopped.
"When the train started to take off she got caught on the train and was dragged for about 100 yards," said Lieutenant Gerardo Chamalbide.
A visibly upset David Hunt says his 10-year-old son Andre was one of the children playing on the tracks and his 13-year-old daughter nearby.
"He's non-stop crying, all he's saying is it could've been him, it could've been him," he said.
Hunt and his family moved to the area last year, and since then he's seen five accidents involving pedestrians and trains.
Although "no trespassing" warnings are on the tracks, he's hopeful barriers can be added for safety.
"Hopefully she didn't die in vain, and this will be the spark we need to get it started," Hunt said.
The BNSF Railway tells Action News by phone that it's up to the state public utilities commission to place barriers where they deem necessary.
The railway went on to say they want to remind parents to discuss the dangers surrounding train crossings.
They say the same way you tell your children not to play in the street; you should tell them the same regarding tracks, a spokesperson told Action News, adding that this accident could have been avoided.