An arrest was made in connection with the death of a 10-year-old California boy who officials say was starved and locked him up before he was beaten to death.
Anthony Avalos died last Thursday in Lancaster, near Los Angeles, after enduring multiple head injuries from long-term abuse, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services said. Child services have been investigating whether him coming out as gay was a factor in his killing.
Police arrested Kareem Leiva, the boyfriend of Avalos’ mother, on suspicion of murder. Avalos' uncle, David Barron, told NBC News that Leiva, 32, has a history of homophobia. He is being held on $2 million bail.
Weeks before his death, Avalos “said he liked boys,” child services deputy director Brandon Nichols told the Los Angeles Times. Nichols did not say who Avalos told this to.
There will be an investigation into whether he was abused because of his sexuality, DCFS director Bobby Cagle told KABC-TV in San Francisco.
“One of the things that we have heard is that there may have been a motivation on the part of the man in the household regarding to the sexuality of the child, and so we’re looking into that in a very deep way,” Cagle said.
During a Wednesday press conference, however, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that homophobia is not being looked at as a motive in the killing at this time.
During Avalos’ short life, he appeared to have suffered constant abuse. The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services told The Associated Press that one of Avalos’ grandparents sexually abused him when he was just 4. However, they later closed the case after they determined that his mother, Heather Barron, was taking proper care of him.
DCFS and police received at least 16 calls concerning Leiva and Barron from school administrators and family members since 2013, according to the Los Angeles Times. Callers claimed the children in the home were sexually abused, denied food and water, forced to fight each other and kept in confined spaces with no access to a bathroom, among other abuses, Cagle told the Times.
DCFS said there were signs of "physical abuse, including signs of being severely beaten, as well as malnourishment" after his death. However, McDonnell disputed those reports during Wednesday's news conference, saying some of his injuries have been “grossly overstated."
"What you’ve heard there is not accurate based on what our detectives have seen,” McDonnell said, adding that detectives didn't find cigarette burns all over the boy's body, as was initially reported by DCFS. He didn't elaborate on what Avalos' actual injuries were. His autopsy has not been completed.
At some point over the past five years, Avalos was removed from his home for several months, officials said. After Avalos’ death, other children were removed from his home and put into DCFS’ care. Investigators are reviewing the cases handled by DCFS to determine if they followed proper protocol.