County Left 8-year-old at Home where He was Being Abused

LANCASTER (CNS) - Just as in the case of Gabriel Fernandez, the 8-year- old Lancaster boy who died after torture at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend, there were numerous indications of child abuse before 8-year-old Anthony Avalos died of serious head injuries last week, cigarette burns covering his body, but the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services did not remove him from the home where he was being tormented, it was reported today.

Law enforcement officers and child protective caseworkers documented years of severe abuse allegations in the Avalos case, sources familiar with the case history told the Los Angeles Times. They said that despite the history, the boy was never permanently removed from the home.

School administrators, a teacher, a counselor, family members and others called police or the child abuse hotline at least 16 times since 2013 to report child abuse in the family's Lancaster home, according to sources who reviewed county documents in the case.

The callers said Anthony or his six siblings were denied food and water, sexually abused, beaten and bruised, dangled upside-down from a staircase, forced to crouch for hours, locked in small spaces with no access to the bathroom, forced to fight each other, and forced to eat from the trash, the sources told The Times.

The callers made allegations against several family members, including his mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, according to the sources. The sexual abuse allegation was made against another family member who Barron and Leiva continued to use for child care even after being made aware of the accusation, the sources said.

Neither his mother nor her boyfriend has been charged with a crime related to Anthony's death. Barron and Leiva did not respond to requests for comment from The Times.

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies responded to a 911 call from his mother about 12:15 p.m. Wednesday and found the boy unresponsive inside his family's apartment. Authorities said they were told the boy had suffered injuries from a fall. He died at a hospital Thursday morning, and investigators classified the death as “suspicious.” County officials have now removed seven other children from the home as the investigation continues.

Although many of the reports of the children*s alleged abuse came from professionals or eye witnesses, caseworkers who investigated the abuse allegations only marked some as “substantiated,” and they only briefly placed Anthony in the care of an aunt and uncle, the sources said. They then returned Anthony to his mother's home over his relatives' protests, his aunt, Maria Barron, said in an interview.

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has filed papers under state disclosure law saying Anthony's death likely resulted from child abuse, The Times reported.

DCFS Director Bobby Cagle declined to be interviewed about Anthony's case. His spokeswoman would not tell The Times if the department has identified any case management errors because it was too early in the investigation. She also declined to say if any workers have been placed on desk duty pending investigation, despite the department's longstanding practice to disclose such decisions.

County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents Lancaster, also declined to be interviewed about the case. In a statement quoted by The Times, she said: “Through our sorrow and anger, we resolve to continue working as a community to identify and implement effective strategies to prevent abuse, protect children, and save lives.”

Maria Barron told The Times that she started making calls to DCFS in 2015 when she noticed bruises and other injuries that the children told her were caused by Leiva. She said the children also reported Leiva locking them in small spaces where they had to urinate and defecate on the floor.

Four DCFS officials are facing trial over Gabriel Fernandez's death.

Photo: Avalos family handout

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