THE uncle of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who died after years of abuse at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend, has spoken out for the first time since the child's death in 2013.
Gabriel died in intensive care after being savagely beaten and tortured at his home in Palmdale, Los Angeles County, by Pearl Fernandez and her partner Isauro Aguirro.
Gabriel's two siblings were adopted by their uncle, Chris Contreras and his wife. In an interview with ABC7, Contreras finally broke his silence, to mark the seven years since Gabriel's deaeth.
"Something brings it back in. It's all those emotions are there. It is not any easier," Contreras said.
Ezekiel was 12 and Virginia was 10 when their brother died, and are still haunted by the abuse they were forced to witness in the Palmdale, California residence.
"Unfortunately, I think this is something that's gonna affect them the rest of their lives. One way or another," Contreras said.
"I would show everybody that picture of Gabriel in the hospital. Because no matter how many times I saw Gabriel smile, when I think of Gabriel now, I picture him in that hospital bed, not waking up."
The horrifying murder was detailed in Netflix documentary The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.
Fernandez was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Aguirro to death, although due to Governor Gavin Newsom suspending all executions while he's in office, he will remain in prison.
Contreras says he believes Aguirro deserves "no mercy".
Four Los Angeles County social workers – Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement along with two supervisors, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt – were charged in connection with the boy's death.
However, they all walked free in March.
"What they did is almost as bad as what Pearl and Isauro did," added Contreras.
Tortured and murdered
- Gabriel was repeatedly beaten and tortured by his evil mother and her partner before he died in 2013 – all because they thought he was gay.
- The defenceless child was rushed to hospital with extensive injuries – including a fractured skull and bruises and burns over his entire body – in May that year, but died two days later after being declared brain dead.
- Paramedics had been called out to his house in Los Angeles by his mother Pearl, who claimed over the phone that he had slipped in the bathroom and hit his head.
- However, medical staff instantly realised it was much worse as they noticed injuries covering his entire body.
- Speaking in the documentary series, Christene Estes, a trauma nurse, describes having to document each of the injuries they found individually – while her colleagues fought to save his life.
- She said: “He had a depressed skull fracture, meaning you could feel his skull… You could feel the crepitus – it’s almost like Rice Krispies, you could feel it crunching on his head.
- “I remember his throat just looked like somebody had burned him, bruising and cuts all over his face, black eyes… He had like a weird cut above his penis, he had abrasions on the top of his foot like he’d been dragged.
- “Ligature marks on his ankles like he’d been tied up. I mean every part of his body there was something."
- Ms Estes also describes how they found a BB gun pellet in Gabriel's lung, and even one in his groin, signalling he'd been shot in both places.
- She also recalls seeing "cigarette marks like people had been putting cigarettes out on him".
- “He didn’t look like a child," she says. "I just remember that night thinking, I just can’t… I just can’t wrap my head around how it got to this."
- In the subsequent trial, Gabriel's brave siblings described how he was often locked in a cabinet – nicknamed "the box" – with a sock shoved in his mouth and a bandanna over his face.
- Meanwhile, his siblings described watching their brother being forced to eat cat litter and have cold baths while being pepper sprayed.
Gabriel's teacher Jennifer Garcia reported signs of abuse to Rodriguez, according to court records.
Despite this, supervisor Gregory Merritt closed the case.
Yet the charges against the group never made it to trial after the 2nd District Court of Appeal advised the lower court dismiss the charges.
A three-justice panel stated that there was no probable cause connected to child abuse or falsifying documents in a 2-to-1 opinion.
And in January this year, a motion to rehear the appeals court decision was denied and the criminal case against these four is not progressing further.
This is despite LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey previously telling NBC Los Angeles she stood by the charges, stating: “There ought to be some criminal consequences.”
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