A Florida waitress and restaurant manager is being hailed a “hero” for saving a boy allegedly suffering “ongoing abuse and torture” by intervening after noticing the family refused to allow him to eat any food at the restaurant.
Using quick thinking, Flaviane Carvalho wrote a sign asking the 11-year-old boy if he needed help and secretly showed him the note from a spot in the restaurant that was out of the view of his parents. When he nodded yes, she called police, who intervened and discovered a history of horrific alleged abuse that included handcuffing the boy to a furniture dolly and hanging him upside down by his ankles from a doorway.
“We probably would have been talking about a potential homicide investigation if she had not intervened when she did,” Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón said during a press conference streamed by local station WFTV.
Carvalho crossed paths with the boy on New Year’s Day while working at the busy Mrs. Potato restaurant, but even that was fortuitous — she wasn't originally scheduled to work that day, but had agreed to cover the shift of co-worker at the last minute.
A family of four—including a man, woman, 11-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl, came into the restaurant for dinner—but Carvalho said she immediately realized something wasn’t right.
While the rest of the family was enjoying their food, the 11-year-old boy wasn’t given any. Carvalho went to check on the family and asked whether anything was wrong with the food.
“The man told me no, everything was fine and that the boy was going to have his dinner at home that night,” Carvalho recounted during the press conference. “I am a mother also and this was very strange to me, because we don’t deny food for a kid, especially in a restaurant.”
The boy was wearing a hoodie, mask and glasses, which covered most of his face, but Carvalho noticed he had a “big scratch between his eye brows,” bruising along the side of his face and bruises on his wrist.
She realized “something was really wrong” and decided to write him note on a sign asking if he was okay. The boy was sitting in a seat at the restaurant that allowed her to show him the sign out of the view of his mother, identified by police as Kristen Swann, and his stepfather, Timothy Wilson II.
When she held up the sign asking if he was okay, the boy shook his head no. Carvalho then decided to pen another sign asking “Do You Need Help?,” Orlando Police said in a statement on social media.
The boy nodded yes and she called 911. Officers arrived a few minutes later and “took over the situation in an amazing way,” Carvalho said.
Orlando Police Det. Erin Lawler sad during the press conference that when officers arrived at the scene, they noticed the boy appeared to be in "pain” when trying to roll up his sleeves. They took him to the hospital, where authorities were able to determine the full extent of his injuries.
The boy was covered in bruises “the entire extent of his body,” Lawler said, including bruises on his face, earlobes, arms and legs. The stages of bruising suggested the boy had been subjected to “ongoing abuse and torture” at home, Lawler said.
He was also significantly underweight for his age and Lawler said police learned he had food withheld from his as a form of punishment.
Authorities believe the couple often punished the boy when he failed to perform physical exercises, like doing planks for 30 minutes.
On Christmas Day, “Santa” suggested that he be punished and the young boy was handcuffed to a furniture dolly with his hands behind his back and ratchet straps around his ankles, Lawler said. He was told he had to set himself free, she said.
In another incident, Lawler said the boy was unable to do a handstand and was “tied up by his ankles to the door and was hung there with the ratchet straps.”
“I am a mother, I have children of my own and to know that another child went through that, it was very gut-wrenching,” Lawler told the media.
Authorities to not believe the 4-year-old girl—who was the biological daughter of both suspects—was subjected to any abuse.
Wilson is now facing three charges of aggravated child abuse and child neglect. Swann has also been charged with two counts of child neglect.
Both children have been removed from the family’s home.
“They are both safe and they are in a location where they are doing very well and they are very happy right now,” Lawler said.
Restaurant owner Rafaela Cabede said during the press conference that she believes the circumstances allowing Carvalho to intervene were the result of divine intervention.
“We truly believe that this was a holy provision and we are very blessed that we were able to help this child,” she said.
She hopes the story will encourage others to speak out when they suspect a child may be danger.
“We are extremely proud,” she said of Carvahlo’s efforts. “We understand that this has to encourage other people. When you see something, say something.”
Carvalho, however, praised the young boy for his bravery.
“I am feeling super sad for him but at the same time I am so proud of him because he also had the courage to ask for help and I am so glad that he did,” she said.
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