Gabriel Fernandez pleaded for help 8 times and told teacher he was shot & punched – The Sun03/09/2020
"IS it normal for your mum to hit you with a belt? Is it normal to bleed?"
These are just two of the heartbreaking questions Gabriel Fernandez asked his teacher in the months before he was beaten to death by his own mother and her partner.
The eight-year-old boy was brutally tortured over eight months by Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre – but despite making several brave pleas for help, he was left to die in the evil pair's home.
New Netflix series The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez has now shed light on the harrowing case, with the tragic youngster's family, teacher and witnesses opening up in court on the many times they called authorities to step in – but to no avail.
Gabriel was rushed to hospital with extensive injuries in May 2013 but tragically passed away two days later after being declared brain dead.
He had a major skull fracture, bruising and cuts all over his face, black eyes, BB gun wounds, ligature marks on his ankles, cigarette burns and cat litter in his stomach – after being forced to eat it.
But shockingly the horror story did not play out solely behind closed doors.
Not only did Gabriel arrive at school with bruises and bloody injuries in the months before he died, he even showed a security guard – as well as some family members – his injuries behind his mother's back.
However, despite each of them calling social services, he was never removed from the house of horrors.
So just why wasn't he rescued, despite his many pleas for help?
'Is it normal for you to bleed?'
Perhaps one of the most chilling memories in the documentary series came from Gabriel's school teacher Jennifer Garcia, who recalled how he once approached her and asked if it was "normal to bleed" after being hit with the metal part of a belt.
"The first incident that I became aware that something wasn’t normal, he started asking a couple of questions," she said on camera.
"'Is it normal for your mum to hit you with a belt?'… And then he said, 'But you know, is it normal to bleed?' I think right there, I knew I was going to call the hotline that day after school, and that’s what I did."
Garcia made the call and was told that the report would be looked into.
She later revealed in court that social worker Stefanie Rodriguez phoned her and said she was assigned to the case.
Is it normal for your mum to hit you with a belt? Is it normal to bleed?
However, nothing was done to remove Gabriel from the home.
'He said his mum punched him in the mouth'
Shockingly, it wasn't the only time Gabriel's teacher rang social services with concerns for his safety.
"One day he walked in and he had these chunks of hair cut out in a random pattern on the top of his head… and then underneath each patch there would be a bloody, starting-to-heal scab underneath," she said on camera.
Garcia also recalled seeing he had a lump on his lip, and when asked in court if she questioned him over it, she said: "Yes. He said his mum punched him in the mouth."
The worried teacher said she immediately called the school's principal to the room, and asked Gabriel to wait by the door as she relayed what he'd said.
He urged her to report it, so Garcia said she called Rodriguez back to tell her about the latest injuries straight away.
Still, he wasn't removed from the home.
'My mum shot me with a BB gun'
The worst was still to come however, as shortly after that Garcia recalled seeing Gabriel come into school with visible bruises over his face.
"He looked horrible. His eyes were all swollen like a cat, kind of squinty looking, and he had bruises all over his face," she said.
As the kids headed out for a break, she once again asked him what had happened.
While he initially said he fell over, he eventually admitted that his mother had shot him in the face with a BB gun.
Gobsmacked by what she'd heard, Garcia questioned why he hadn't told her straight away, but he told her he was scared to tell her things now because every time he does, "that lady [Rodriguez] comes and I get hurt worse".
While Garcia said she was worried about calling at that point, she eventually did and reported everything once again to social services.
According to the documentary, while Rodriguez did attend the home after that, she took Gabriel's word for it when he said it was an accident and didn't demand any medical follow-up.
Battered and bruised after 13 days off school
After that last visit, Gabriel was missing from school for 13 days. When he did return, his injuries were much worse.
"He looked horrible, his eye was totally red there was no white showing, his forehead had skin that looked like it had peeled off, he said he fell off a bike… the kids were scared," Garcia said.
"He looked the worst I'd ever seen, but he'd been healing too. He'd been out 13 days, so I knew that was the healing version of those injuries."
Garcia once again called Rodriguez, but this time she claimed she never got a call back.
The school were working on a Mother's Day project at the time and Gabriel actually managed to smile in a picture taken as a present for his mum, with his injuries clearly visible.
He penned a suicide note
While Gabriel's injuries were hard to ignore, there was another major red flag during his time living with his mother too.
The court heard that he penned a suicide note – which the DCFS was notified of by a counsellor, after she'd made a routine visit to the home.
According to the documentary, Pearl actually handed the note over initially, claiming Gabriel had written it for attention.
The note was eventually dismissed as Gabriel had not specified a plan to actually kill himself.
Prosecutor Hatami expressed confusion over why Pearl willingly presented the note to the counsellor – having never tried to help Gabriel before – and even alleged that she may have set the situation up, with a plan of eventually "getting rid of him".
'I want to come home'
Gabriel was brought up by his uncle and his partner when he was a baby, before moving in with his grandparents Robert and Sandra at around two to three years old.
Tragically, while he appeared happy there, his mother then took him from them and kept custody of him for his final eight months.
A tearful Robert took to the stand in the trial and recalled speaking to Gabriel during that time.
"He said that he wanted to come home," Robert said in court through tears. "I told him that… the DCFS [LA's department for children and family services] was investigating the case and I couldn't bring him home, but that they were, one of these days, going to let him come home… And I promised that to him."
It was alleged in the documentary that on one occasion Robert and his wife called police after Aguirre told them he was taking Gabriel to a barbecue – but later found out he'd lied.
According to prosecutor Jon Hatami, they actually reported Aguirre for kidnapping at the time. But despite their concerns, the defenceless boy was ultimately allowed to stay with Pearl and Aguirre from then on.
Meanwhile, according to the LA Times, Robert and Sandra claimed that they warned sheriff's department officers that Pearl had a history of abuse, but Pearl was still able to take Gabriel away.
Social workers claimed to have never found strong enough signs of abuse in order to remove Gabriel from the house.
Later investigations revealed Rodriguez had never received information detailing previous allegations that Pearl had neglected her other children.
'I started sleeping over to make sure he wouldn't get hurt'
Robert wasn't alone however, as Gabriel's great-aunt Elizabeth Carranza and her husband claimed they rang social services on three separate occasions over fears for their great-nephew.
They also claimed they spoke to sheriffs twice.
Meanwhile, Pearl's sister Malissa Fernandez testified and revealed how she'd stayed over at the house on several occasions, in an effort to protect Gabriel from the abuse she knew he was being subjected to.
She claimed she'd seen Gabriel with a black eye and teeth missing, but when she asked him how he got the injuries, he initially claimed he was play fighting.
However, after further pressing him, he said his mum had hit him.
Breaking down in tears in court, Malissa said: "I couldn't help because I was underage… I didn't think they were going to do that to him.
"When we started seeing what was happening at home, we started getting nervous, so I started sleeping over to make sure he wouldn't get hurt."
'It was all over his body, screaming for help'
Arturo Miranda Martinez was a former security guard at the LA county's welfare office when he came face to face with Gabriel – and immediately noticed extensive injuries across his head and arms.
Speaking in the documentary, he described seeing a heavily tattooed Pearl come into the office with some kids – including Gabriel – on April 26, 2013.
"All of a sudden I noticed the boy and all the back of his head had a bunch of cigarette burns," Martinez said.
"Some were small, some were wider, some were fresh, some were healing, then I noticed around his eyes he had purple greenish bruises.
"I'm like, wow, he's all beat up. From a scale from 1 to 10, he was a 20.
"At that point Gabriel starts walking by and he rubs past my desk, and goes like this [holds up his arm in his other hand], and he looks at me with the corner of his eye, and at that point my heart dropped, like Oh My God.
"I saw the marks. I thought, 'Damn man, this is f***ed up'. And that's when it hit me, oh s***, child abuse."
He added: "His body was talking… 'this is what they're doing to me', that's what he was saying. Yelling. He didn't really have to say anything. It was all over his body, screaming for help."
Martinez claimed in the documentary that he approached the clerk that Pearl had been speaking to, Maricela Corona, to ask if she'd noticed, and claimed she asked her supervisor if she should get involved. They apparently told her not to.
Martinez then revealed he rang his own supervisor, who also told him not to get involved.
Finally he claimed Corona went against protocol and passed over the family’s name and contact information to him, urging him to try and help where she couldn't.
Risking both of their jobs, he rang 911 to report it, where he was re-directed to the sheriff's department. They insisted they'd send two deputies to check on Gabriel, but still, he wasn't removed from the home.
Gabriel tragically died just 29 days later.
Too little too late
In what has been described by US media as an unprecedented move, the four social workers involved were charged with criminal negligence in the case.
The charges were later dropped however because prosecutors did not prove the social workers “had the requisite duty to control the abusers,” and concluded they “did not have care or custody of Gabriel".
All four of them have now reportedly been fired by the LA County Department of Children and Family Services.
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