Relatives and school officials had been reporting signs of abuse for years
A 10-year-old California boy’s suspicious death is being investigated, following years of reported abuse, and officials said his coming out might have played a part.
Anthony Avalos came out to as gay to his family before he died in Lancaster, and Brandon Nichols, deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, told The Los Angeles Times authorities are investigating whether homophobia played a role in his death.
Nichols said the boy said, “I like boys,” but did not elaborate on whom he told or when.
Avalos was found unresponsive and mortally wounded at his home last Wednesday, following a 911 call from his mother, Heather Barron. He had severe head injuries, and there were cigarette burns covering his body. Officials said they were told he had suffered injuries due to a fall. He died at the hospital on Thursday.
The boy, along with his six siblings, lived with his mother and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva. They were the subject of at least 16 calls since 2013, including from school administrators, a teacher, a counselor, and family members, to DCFS and police alleging child abuse, sources told the newspaper.
Avalos’ aunt, Maria Barron, said she began alerting authorities starting in 2015, after noticing bruising on the children, who told her they came from Leiva. She said the children told her that Leiva, who was convicted of domestic abuse in 2010, locked them in small spaces and forced them to urinate and defecate on the floor.
DCFS Director Bobby Cagle confirmed with The Times that the department had received calls with allegations that the children were being denied food and water, were made to eat from the trash, were being sexually abused, dangled upside-down from a staircase, and forced to fight one another.
The boy’s aunt said for the boy to have come out under such circumstances “only reinforces how brave Anthony was.”
“We will be taking a very hard look at how this happened, take all corrective actions immediately, and provide strict and diligent oversight to ensure that the reforms we have started are carried out,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis in a statement.
“We failed Anthony,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “I hope to get answers in the coming days as to what went wrong.”