Gabriel Fernandez was brutally murdered on May 24, 2013 by his mother and her boyfriend in a case that shocked the country. The 8-year-old boy died of his injuries in hospital after suffering abuse for months at their hands.
Now, the case is brought to light again thanks to Netflix’s new docu-series, “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.” The show outlines the circumstances leading up to Gabriel’s death as well as the failures of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in preventing this from happening.
The details of this murder case are gruesome and may be hard to watch for viewers of the show. Netflix has released many true crime documentaries and series, but this may be the most disturbing and tragic one yet.
Here’s what you need to know about Gabriel Fernandez’s murder story for those who are interested in reading more about the case:
1. The Authorities Got Involved on May 22, 2013 When Gabriel’s Mother Pearl Called 911
Pearl Fernandez, Gabriel’s mother, called 911 on May 22, 2013 to report that her son had hit his head and wasn’t breathing. Paramedics were shocked when they arrived at their home, though, because there appeared to be a lot more to the story. CBS reported that after the boy’s death and during the trial, paramedics explained that they found the boy naked, ribs shattered, his skull fractured, and he had BB gun pellets lodged in his skin.
Gabriel Fernandez was declared to be brain dead and died two days later in hospital.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami told a grand jury that Pearl Fernandez’s boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre “reveled in his brutalization, forcing Gabriel to eat cat feces and his own vomit. The boy slept in a small cabinet, with his ankles handcuffed, his hands bound and his mouth gagged with a sock,” all of this because Aguirre believed the boy was gay, prosecutors said and reported by the LA Times.
During a 2017 trial about the case, the pathologist responsible for the autopsy, Dr. James Ribe, said that there were so many injuries to Gabriel that the autopsy took two full days. The autopsy concluded that the cause of death was due to blunt force trauma, compounded by malnutrition and neglect.
2. Pearl Fernandez & Her Boyfriend Isauro Aguirre Were Charged With Murder & Abuse
The judge during the trial was just as appalled as everyone else, saying that “It goes without saying the conduct was horrendous, inhumane and nothing short of evil.” Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli said that “It is unimaginable the pain this child probably endured.” The full video of the sentencing is available below via ABC7’s YouTube channel:
The judge said during the sentencing: “I can only wish, I really do, that you both in the middle of the night you wake up and you think of the injuries that you subjected this poor young man, this poor 7-year-old, and that it tortures you.”
Although Gabriel Fernandez was murdered in May 2013, the trials were not concluded until June 2018. Pearl Fernandez, aged 34 at the time, and Aguirre, 37, were both convicted of murder in the first degree. Pearl received a life sentence without the possibility of parole, and Aguirre received the death penalty.
3. Four Los Angeles Social Workers Were Charged With Child Abuse in This Case
There is another aspect to this case that “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” explores, and that is the four social workers who were also charged with child abuse. The Netflix series explores as a whole the failures of the system in noticing and reacting to the abuse of a young child, and asks the question of how this was allowed to happen.
NBC discovered that between 2003 and 2012, more than 60 complaints were filed against Pearl Fernandez and Aguirre with the Department of Children and Family Services. Eight investigations took place to look into the family, but nothing more was done. Gabriel Fernandez’s murder trial was also a fight against this system and the four social workers were accused of failing in their duty to protect Gabriel.
As a result of this battle, two social workers and their supervisors were charged with child abuse and falsifying public records, as reported by the LA Times. Social workers Stefanie Rodriguez, 34 at the time, Patricia Clement, who was then 69 years old and supervisors Kevin Bom, 40, and Gregory Merritt, aged 64 were all charged.
A few weeks ago, in January 2020, these charges were all dismissed by the 2nd District Court of Appeal, with Justice Francis Rothschild ruling that “We conclude that the petitioners never had the requisite duty to control the abusers and did not have care or custody of Gabriel.”
4. Gabriel Fernandez Lived Most of His Life With His Grandparents
Gabriel Fernandez was born in 2005 to Pearl Fernandez. From late 2005 until 2012, the boy lived with his maternal grandparents. Court records show that in October 2012, Gabriel went to live with his mother Pearl, her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre, who is referred to as “Tony,” and Pearl’s two other kids, aged 11 and 9. Gabriel started attending Summerwind Elementary School.
In a tearful interview with ABC7, Gabriel’s grandfather Robert Fernandez shared that he and his wife Sandra had custody of Gabriel, but Pearl and Aguirre had taken the boy in 2012. He said that they had raised all three kids, but Ezequiel and Virginia went to live with Pearl in 2009 whereas Gabriel stayed with them.
ABC7 reported that on the stand, Robert Fernandez was emotional, explaining that he only saw Gabriel once or twice before his death. He spoke about one of their last conversations, saying: “He said he wanted to come home. I told him that…the DCFS was investigating the case and I couldn’t bring him home, but that they were, one of these days, going to bring him home. And I promised that to him.”
5. He Was Described as a “Kind Child” Who Enjoyed Going to Class
Gabriel’s first-grade teacher Jennifer Garcia spoke to the jury during the trial, saying that she had reported to the authorities that the 8-year-old had asked her if mothers usually hit their children with a belt. She reported to DCFS that he had also pretended to “snort something off of his desk” which led her to believe he was exposed to drug use in his home life.
According to CBS Los Angeles, Garcia described Gabriel during trial as a kind boy who enjoyed class and helping others in the classroom. She added that his mother and her boyfriend “are evil people for what they did. And despite how I feel, I know that if Gabriel had survived, he wouldn’t have wanted his mom or Isauro to be punished for anything that they did to him because that is the kind of person he was.”
This video captures an interview between ABC7 and Garcia after her victim impact in court, and is recorded by the Awaken YouTube channel.