The family of Gabriel Fernandez, along with the district attorney who prosecuted his mother and her boyfriend for his torture and murder when he was 8 years old, will be celebrating what would have been his 16th birthday this weekend.
Fernandez was killed in 2013 after months of abuse by his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre. The two were convicted of Gabriel's murder in 2018. Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, who prosecuted both of them, said that during the period they were torturing the boy they put out lit cigarettes on his body, shot him in the face with a BB gun, made him eat cat litter and feces, and forced him to sleep in a locked cabinet — often while bound and gagged. He was declared brain dead at a local hospital after being fatally beaten in May 2013. Gabriel died two days later.
Feb. 20 was Gabriel’s birthday, and this year he would have turned 16 years old. To commemorate the boy, Hatami and some of Gabriel’s relatives will be gathering at “Gabriel's Tree” in Palmdale, California. The tree is located right outside the apartment where Gabriel was killed, Hatami explained to Oxygen.com. Since the boy’s death, members of the community began leaving gifts and toys at the tree. It is now a protected landmark.
“I wish I could talk to Gabriel about which colleges he wanted to go to and what his major would be,” Hatami told Oxygen.com. “I wish I could talk to him about his first romantic interest, first crush, or first relationship. I wish I knew Gabriel before he was murdered. I truly wonder what would have been.”
Hatami also said that he wants everyone to remember the boy, his smile, and his “courage under enduring torture and abuse.”
“Don’t let Gabriel’s story, his life, his death, and his trial be for nothing,” he said. “Children are our most precious resource. As a community, we need to do better, be better. Do it for Gabriel. [...] Justicia para Gabrielito siempre."
Following Gabriel's death, Hatami openly criticized the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services for allegedly not doing enough to save his life. Four social workers were eventually charged in the boy’s death, accused of failing to take appropriate action to prevent his murder. But the charges were ultimately dismissed. The decision to even charge the social workers in the first place was unprecedented, and it thrust into the spotlight a debate over what kind of responsibilities the department has over children.
Hatami told Oxygen.com that jurors from Aguirre’s trial also purchased and built a plaque in Gabriel’s honor at his former elementary school in Palmdale.
Pearl is currently serving life for the killing of her son; Aguirre is currently on death row for murdering the boy.
Gabriel’s birthday gathering will take place at noon, local time, at the tree named for him, located at 249 East Avenue Q-10, in Palmdale. Hatami invites the public to attend.
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