The Netflix docu-series "The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez" may leave audiences with the impression that the 8-year-old boy who endured horrific and ultimately fatal abuse at the hands of his guardians may not have experienced any love in his life. But at one point, Gabriel did seem to be in the care of people who genuinely cared for him, like his great-uncle Michael Lemos Carranza.
Gabriel's mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, were ultimately convicted of first-degree murder in the boy's death, with Pearl now serving a life sentence and Aguirre being held on death row after a jury found the boy suffered unprecedented abuse at the hands of his guardians who had custody of Gabriel for less than a year.
But Gabriel did not live with his mother for most of his life. She actually gave her son away to her uncle — Carranza — and his partner David Martinez just three days after his birth.
“She didn’t want him and the family didn't want her to have him,” Martinez said in the series. “We convinced her to have Gabriel and for her to give it to us so we will raise it.”
He claimed that after Gabriel was born, Pearl called Carranza and said, “Come and get your kid, he's getting on my nerves already.”
"He stayed with us for four years," Martinez said, noting that Gabriel's grandfather eventually took custody of the boy because he didn't think Gabriel should be raised by two gay men.
Carranza and Martinez, as well as Gabriel's grandparents Robert and Sandra Fernandez, tried to raise the boy in a loving home before the boy was taken in by Aguirre and Pearl. Robert testified in the Aguirre trial that he cared for Gabriel nearly every day of the first seven years of his life — even testifying that Gabriel was like his son, ABC7 reported at the time.
Even after Gabriel's death, Carranza and his family worked to set up a Facebook page called "Gabriel's Justice" to memorialize Gabriel and monitor updates in his case following the arrests of Aguirre and Pearl. A 2013 post notes that Carranza hosted a memorial mass for Gabriel.
"We decided to create this site to raise awareness of what happened to Gabriel when his 'mother' gained custody of him in October 2012 until he passed away on May 24, 2013, from child abuse, at the hands of his 'mother' Perla Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre," the page's description reads.
"I wanted to share a picture of Gabriel's 3rd birthday party, to answer the questions of 'did Gabriel ever experience a party, love, etc..' why celebrate after he is gone, because he loved his birthdays.. I want you to take comfort that Gabriel knew how loved he was by family, until his awful mother took him," a 2015 post sharing a photo of a young Gabriel with his grandmother and Carranza read.
What happened to Carranza and Martinez?
Carranza died about a year after Gabriel's death, according to "Gabriel's Justice." The page did not list a cause of death.
"It is with a heavy heart and tears, that I inform you.. Today my beloved cousin Michael has passed away today. He is now and will forever be with his Gabriel.. May you both be hugging and laughing," the post read, with a photo of Carranza and Gabriel attached.
The documentary does not go into great detail about Carranza's death but interviews an emotional Martinez — who now lives in San Salvador, El Salvador following deportation from the United States. "ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] got hold of me," he told the filmmakers. "I don't know what the country's about at all ... I was petrified."
However, he now says he feels both Carranza and Gabriel are with him in spirit now.
"He was my baby," Martinez emotionally recounted. "I had never known pain before, until he passed away. I will love him until I die."
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