Child ab*use often happens when no one is around. But teachers and social workers knew very well that Gabriel Fernandez had been ab*used. Gabriel Fernandez was only eight years old when he was k*illed. Some adults tried to help him, but they didn’t do enough.
Since then, Gabriel’s case has made people mad and sickened them. How come no one looked into his ab*use for so long? What else could the adults in the California boy’s life have done to save him? And how can social workers make sure that something like what happened to Gabriel never happens again?
This is the story of Gabriel Fernandez and how his carers treated him horribly in public before he died in May 2013.
Gabriel Fernandez Ab*use
Gabriel Fernandez was born on February 20, 2005, in Palmdale, California. His family life was hard right from the start. The Wrap says that his mother, Pearl Fernandez, didn’t want another child and even left him at the hospital.
In fact, Pearl had a history of ignoring and hurting her children. Booth Law says that a year earlier, a family member told Child Protective Services that Pearl was beating up another son. Nothing was done, though.
Gabriel spent most of his life with his great-uncle and his partner because his mother didn’t want him. After that, he went to live with his grandparents. But in 2012, even though Pearl had been accused of hitting her daughter and not feeding her, she suddenly said that Gabriel’s relatives weren’t taking care of him well and that she wanted him back.
The Atlantic says that Pearl really brought Gabriel back because she wanted to get welfare. Even though Gabriel’s grandparents didn’t want him to move back in with her, she did so in October 2012. Gabriel lived there with his mother, Isauro Aguirre, her boyfriend, and his two older siblings, Ezequiel, 11, and Virginia, 9.
Gabriel’s first-grade teacher, Jennifer Garcia, at Summerwind Elementary in Palmdale, California, soon saw signs that the boy had been abu*sed. Gabriel actually told her about it.
In October 2012, he asked Garcia, “Is it normal for moms to hit their kids?” “Is it normal for your mum to hit you with that metal thing on the end of the belt? Does it hurt when you bleed?”
After school, Garcia called a hotline for children who were being ab*used. She was put in touch with a caseworker named Stefanie Rodriguez. Even though Garcia felt better at first, Gabriel Fernandez still seemed to be mistreated.
He came to class one day with pieces of hair missing. Gabriel Fernandez showed up the next day with a cut lip and told Garcia that his mum had hit him. In January 2013, he came to Garcia’s office with round bruises on his face and said that his mother had shot him with a BB gun.
Garcia tried to get in touch with Rodriguez over and over, but the caseworker said she couldn’t talk about Gabriel’s case. Rodriguez had been to the Fernandez home, but Gabriel often changed his stories. Rodriguez also noticed that the children at the house were dressed properly, looked healthy, and had no marks or bruises.
Sad to say, his ab*use was a lot worse than either Rodriguez or Garcia seemed to know. And in May 2013, Gabriel Fernandez’s mother and her boyfriend would k*ill the 8-year-old by beating him very badly.
The Mur-der Of Gabriel Fernandez
Pearl Fernandez called 911 on May 22, 2013, to say that her son Gabriel was not breathing. When the paramedics got there, they saw that the boy had broken ribs, a broken skull, no teeth, and BB pellet wounds all over his body.
“I tried to feel his heart,” Isauro Aguirre, Pearl Fernandez’s boyfriend, told The Atlantic. He said Gabriel’s injuries were caused by “roughhousing” with his older brother. “Nothing is moving,” he said.
Later, it was found out that Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre had tortured the eight-year-old with a BB gun, pepper spray, coat hangers, and a baseball bat. Gabriel Fernandez died on May 24, 2013, two days after he was hurt. Then, in the months that followed, it became clear how shockingly bad the ab*use was and that his ab*users did it because they were homophobic.
The Atlantic says that Gabriel Fernandez’s mum and Aguirre beat him very badly on a regular basis. It took eight months for this to happen. They would sometimes put a sock in his mouth, tie his hands and feet together, and lock him in a cabinet they called “the cubby.”
They called him gay (maybe because he had been raised by a gay great-uncle), beat him when they saw him playing with dolls, and made him wear dresses. Gabriel’s siblings, Ezequiel and Virginia, say that the couple also made him eat “a lot” of cat poop, run away from a BB gun, and got so angry with him that he couldn’t breathe.
Gabriel’s therapist said before he died that the boy was forced to have oral sex with a family member and had written notes saying he wanted to kill himself.
But sadly, he was never saved, even though there were many signs that something was wrong.
The Aftermath Of The 8 Year Old’s Death
Both Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre were arrested and charged with killing Gabriel Fernandez after he died. Pearl admitted to killing her husband and was given a life sentence.
“I want to say I’m sorry to my family for what I did,” Pearl Fernandez told the court in 2018, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I wish Gabriel were still around. I wish every day that I had made better decisions. I want my kids to know that I’m sorry and that I love them.”
The judge, on the other hand, didn’t hold back. He told The Wrap that Gabriel’s death was so horrible that it was almost animalistic, except that “animals know how to take care of their young.”
Aguirre was also found guilty and sentenced to death for first-degree mur*der. (However, California has stopped all executions for the time being, so Aguirre will stay in jail for the foreseeable future.)
But Gabriel Fernandez’s death also had effects on a lot of other people. Four social workers, Stefanie Rodriguez, Patricia Clement, Kevin Bom, and Gregory Merritt, were charged with felony child ab*use and falsifying public records. But TIME says that in January 2020, a court of appeals decided that they shouldn’t be charged with a crime.
Gabriel Fernandez’s family and friends can only hope that his terrible death wasn’t all for nothing. After his death, the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services promised to start “a new era of reform” even though it was clear that he had fallen through the cracks.
TIME says that the organisation has added new policies to make sure children are safe, hired more than 3,000 new social workers since 2013 to lighten caseloads, and retrained current caseworkers on how to interview witnesses and spot physical signs of ab*use before it’s too late.
Will it be sufficient? The Wrap says that in the years after Gabriel Fernandez’s death, several ab*used children in the Los Angeles area and elsewhere were k*illed. So, it’s clear that more work needs to be done.
Gabriel Fernandez’s death was very sad because it could have been stopped. When his teacher told social workers about the abu*se, they could have done something. Instead, the city of Los Angeles turned a blind eye and let the boy suffer and die at the hands of his own caretakers.