While Netflix’s new docu-series “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” dives deep into some of the most heinous details of the Gabriel Fernandez case, one of the most alarming takeaways is that it’s not an isolated incident.
In fact, just weeks after Fernandez’ killers — the very people who were supposed to care for him — were sentenced, another little boy in the same town died under eerily similar circumstances.
The new docu-series dived deep into the horrendous Fernandez case from its beginning to end. It showed how Gabriel Fernandez, age 8, died in 2013 after enduring months of abuse by his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre. During the time they had custody of him, they put out cigarettes on him, 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 gagged and bound.
During those horrific months of torture, several people tried desperately to help Gabriel: his teacher Jennifer Garcia called the Department of Children and Family Services multiple times to report the visible signs of abuse, ABC7 reported. Arturo Martinez, a security guard at the Department of Public Social Services in Palmdale, called 911 and risked his job when he noticed Gabriel had sustained burn marks, bruises, lumps and lacerations, according to a separate ABC7 report.
But both were frustrated when no help seemed to come for the child.
While the docu-series showed that justice was served after Pearl was given life without parole and Aguirre was sentenced to death, just two weeks after their sentencing, history appeared to repeat itself.
Another Palmdale, California boy named Anthony Avalos died under seemingly similar circumstances.
Avalos' mother, Heather Barron, called 911 on June 20, 2018 to claim Avalos, 10, had fallen, KTLA reported. However, he had cuts and bruises all over his body, as well as a traumatic brain injury. He died the next day.
In the Gabriel case, his mother, Pearl, also claimed he had just fallen and hit his head. In both cases, investigators could clearly see that the injuries were the result of alleged abuse. In the case of Avalos, before he died, he allegedly underwent a torture session that lasted five or six days.
Prosecutors claim that Barron and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, poured hot sauce all over his face and mouth, beat him with a belt, and dropped him on his head repeatedly. Just like Gabriel, he had cigarette burns all over his body, according to the docu-series.
Barron and Leiva are also accused of starving him and performing sex acts in front of him.
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami told producers of “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” that when a deputy called him to inform him of the Avalos case he “was shocked.”
“It didn’t make sense to me in my head that there could be another little boy like Gabriel,” he said. “You're thinking about it in your head, 'How could this be true? This can’t be true.’”
The case was almost immediately compared to the Gabriel Fernandez case. A Los Angeles Times opinion piece noted the similarities and included reader reactions to both tragedies.
Like with Gabriel, who had two siblings but was the only one tortured (allegedly because Aguirre believed he was gay), Avalos appeared to have been singled out as the child to allegedly hurt. In fact, other kids in the house were encouraged to hurt him, the docu-series claims.
Furthermore, as in the Gabriel case, allegations were made that Leiva tortured him because he thought he was gay. Avalos' uncle, David Barron, told NBC News that Leiva has a history of homophobia. Initially, Department of Children and Family Services Director Bobby Cagle told KABC-TV that they were investigating whether or not homophobia played a role in the boy's death.
There was also, as there was in Gabriel’s case, a history of documented alleged abuse and numerous calls made to DCFS. Journalist Melissa Chadburn noted in the docu-series that DCFS was very quick to state that the cases were not alike, “but you couldn't help but draw parallels between the two,” she said.
Following his tragic death, Avalos’ biological father and other relatives filed a $50 million lawsuit against the county, claiming that social workers mishandled the case, NBC Los Angeles reported. Multiple people had called DCFS to report that Avalos was being abused. A day care worker, an assistant principal at Avalos' elementary school, and even his uncle filed a complaint, according to ABC7 in Los Angeles.
However, DCFS found all allegations of abuse against the boy to be unfounded. In Gabriel’s case, DCFS workers found his abuse to be unfounded and they even closed his case, just weeks before he was tortured to death.
Barron and Leiva remain jailed without bail while awaiting trial. Both have been indicted on trial on torture and murder charges, along with the special circumstance of murder involving the infliction of torture. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors announced in August that they will be seeking the death penalty for the couple.
Hatami told Oxygen.com that Leiva is set to go to trial on Sept. 1. Barron’s trial, which will be separate, will follow.
Leiva is represented by two lawyers, including Daniel Nardoni, who also represents “Hollywood Ripper” killer Michael Gargiulo. Nardoni has not immediately returned Oxygen.com’s request for comment. Dale Atherton, who represents Barron, has declined to comment on the allegations.
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