Heather Barron lived at home with her son, Anthony Avalos, 10, and boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, at the time of the child’s death on June 21. Avalos was found injured with a head wound after falling at his home in Lancaster, California. his mother said. Avalos died a day later at a nearby hospital. His death is being investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The Los Angeles Times reported on June 26 that the deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, Brandon Nichols, that Avalos “said he liked boys.” That article does not mention when or to whome the boy was talking to when he made that statement. The LA Times report says that Avalos suffered severe head injuries and had cigarette burns “covering his body.”
Nichols told the LA Times that a criminal investigation into Avalos’ death is ongoing. Speaking to ABC Los Angeles, the director of the Department of Child and Family Services, Bobby Cagle, said officials are looking into whether homophobia was a motivating factor. The Los Angeles County corner is working to determine the exact cause of death.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Social Services Visited Avalos’ Home 8 Times
DCFS Director Bobby Cagle told CBS Los Angeles that between February 2013 and April 2016, social services were called 13 times in relation to Avalos’ home. In 2013, Avalos was removed from the home after alleged sexual abuse from his grandfather. Authorities last spoke directly and privately to the 10-year-old in 2016. Cagle was then asked why the child wasn’t removed from the home to which he responded saying, “Well, you have to have a level of proof in order to get a court to give you an order of that type. Once you have a child recant, that somewhat compromises your ability to get those warrants.” The same CBS report says that over the years, seven children, aged between 11 months and 12 years old were found living at the home. ABC Los Angeles reports that says that reports of abuse were made by Avalos’ family members, a counselor and a teacher.
2. Avalos’ Aunt Says He Was Forced to Eat Trash
Avalos’ aunt, Maria Barron, told CBS Los Angeles that 10-year-old and his siblings were forced to eat trash and regularly subjected to abuse. Maria Barron told the Los Angeles Times that she began reporting Avalos’ mother in 2015. Barron said that the children in Avalos’ home were forced to go to the bathroom on the floor. Maria Barron told CBS Los Angeles, “[Avalos] told us that he would get locked up and he wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom.” The aunt added that after hearing the report that her nephew came out of the closet despite the abuse he suffered, “only reinforces how brave Anthony was.” Maria Barron is Heather Barron’s sister-in-law.
While Avalos’ father, Victor Avalos, who lives in Mexico, told the station that his mother noticed scratches on the boy while the family video chatted. Later, Victor Avalos said Heather Barron prevented his son from talking on video camera.
3. Leiva Is an Accused Member of MS-13
Cagle told CBS Los Angeles that Barron’s assessment that her son fell and and his head is not believable. Cagle said, “He had a severe head injury consistent with a brain bleed, plus bruises and abrasions all about his body. All that indicates to me that that’s non-accidental.” The Los Angeles Times reports that in 2010, Leiva was convicted of domestic abuse. The Times goes onto mention that Leiva was allegedly a member of MS-13, citing social worker reports in the case. The deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, Brandon Nichols, told the LA Times that, “Just because someone has some affiliation [with MS-13], in and of itself would not have a conclusive effect.”
4. Authorities Are Trying to Find Suitable Homes for Avalos’ Siblings
Authorities have removed Avalos’ siblings from Barron and Leiva’s home. They are in the process of trying to find suitable homes for them. The investigation into Avalos’ death will include the role and actions taken by various social workers in dealing with the various complaints. CBS Los Angeles reported that the family lived at the 1100 block of East Avenue K in Lancaster. At a vigil for her nephew, Maria Barron told the station, “Anthony deserves justice. The rest of my nieces and nephews don’t deserve to go back to her.”
5. Bobby Cagle Has Compared Avalos’ Case to the Murder of Gabriel Fernandez in 2013
Department of Child and Family Services director Bobby Cagle told ABC Los Angeles that Avalos’ case is similar to the 2013 murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. Cagle said, “One of the things that we have heard is that there may have been a motivation on the part of the man in the household regarding to the sexuality of the child, and so we’re looking into that in a very deep way. Of course, that was an alleged factor in the Gabriel Fernandez case, so that concerns us and so we’re looking at that angle as well as many others.” A few weeks before Avalos’ death, Fernandez’s mother and boyfriend were sentenced for his killing. In Fernandez’s case there had also been previous reports of abuse made to the DCFS.
In 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported that Fernandez was “doused with pepper spray, forced him to eat his own vomit and locked him in a cabinet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams.” In sentencing Fernandez’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez and, her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli called the pair “nothing short of evil.” Pearl Fernandez was sentenced to life in prison while Aguirre was given the death penalty.