Last Update: Thursday, April 17, 2014
|Family Remembers Gabriel Fernandez’ Birthday|
|Written by Alex Garcia|
|Thursday, 27 February 2014 03:57|
Boy Allegedly Killed By Parents Is Remembered With Balloons
On Friday, Feb. 21, a few family members and close friends gathered at El Cariso Park in Sylmar to send balloons into the air and acknowledge what would have been Gabriel Fernandez’ 9th birthday.
“It was his birthday, which would have been a celebration at the park,” said Emily Carranza, Gabriel’s cousin and creator of the “Gabriel’s Justice” Facebook page, devoted as a memorial to the boy who died after suffering beatings and torture allegedly at the hands of his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, in their Palmdale home last May.
Carranza said the birthday parties were occasions Gabriel always looked forward to. “His uncle, Michael (Limon), who took care of Gabriel, always took him shopping. The parties were mostly at Hansen Dam and there were jumpers, games.
It was a big deal for (Gabriel) because he was the center of attention and it was all Gabriel’s decision, from the theme to the piñata,” Carranza recalled. Life is much different now. Since news broke of the heinous death of the little boy and events that followed, the Fernandez family has been divided, split over allegations of improper money handling from donations collected to pay for funeral costs after Gabriel’s death.
Sandra Fernandez, the boy’s maternal grandmother, who had been suffering from a long illness, passed away in January. “It took a toll on her. After his death, she just gave up,” said Carranza. Gabriel’s grandfather has sought legal representation.
And then there’s the case against Fernandez and Aguirre, and the ongoing controversy surrounding the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which came under fire for failing to protect the boy, who had previously lived with his grandparents. They said that Gabriel’s mother didn't want him but then later picked him up and refused to return him telling them that she needed the welfare money that he could bring. DCFS was contacted, but failed to take action.
Two of Gabriel’s siblings, who were also living in the Palmdale apartment, are now living with their father’s family in Texas. Case Continues Last May, Gabriel was found with BB pellets in his lungs and groin and was rushed to a hospital, where he died several days later.
One of Gabriel’s teachers later recounted about her repeated attempts to report the boy’s black eyes, lacerations and bruises to the agency, to no avail. Four social workers were terminated as a result of the case, and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors created a Blue Ribbon commission to recommend changes to DCFS.
After previous delays, Fernandez and Aguirre are scheduled to appear in court again for a preliminary hearing on March 18. “They keep postponing the trial. It could be another year,” said Carranza.
“They want to have all the hard core evidence. They don’t want to leave any loopholes where they don’t get convicted.” Carranza said so far Fernandez hasn’t expressed regret in the death of her son.
“When you see her in the court, there’s no remorse in her face,” she noted. Carranza and others have protested outside DCFS offices and the Board of Supervisors, calling for changes to the agency, which are slow in coming.
The department is responsible for more than 17,000 children in foster or group homes, and struggling to find new foster parents. Last year, social workers staged protests as well for what they say are excessive numbers of cases to deal with.
They even threatened with a strike that was avoided at the end. DCFS has also instituted three new social worker “academies” since August and training has been increased from seven weeks to 52 weeks.
The preparation includes training in interviewing parents, identifying drug abuse and emergency response, and looking for signs that someone else is living in or visiting the home and needs a background check. Home visits are now simulated during training to highlight such clues, like cigarettes in the ashtray of a bedroom where the mother doesn’t smoke. “I know it takes time for the county to move, but we don’t want to hear more cases like this happening,” said Carranza.
“The social workers say they are overwhelmed, but how is it that they had time to protest and take a day off from their cases and now we hear they’re getting raises as children keep dying.” While Gabriel’s death is a true tragedy, Carranza acknowledged it served as a catalyst for others to speak out against child abuse. The Facebook page, “Gabriel’s Justice,” has become a clearing house for these cases.
“I don’t think people would have opened up as much before learning of Gabriel's death. Now if they see something they’re more willing to approach a person and people are calling the cops more, people are taking a stand for children,” said Carranza.
Gabriel’s House There is also an effort underway for “Gabriel's House,” a public facility for area youth in Palmdale that gives them a place to learn music, dance, visual arts and photography. Saturday, March 1, is the official ribbon cutting ceremony for this facility where children can paint, play and simply be kids.
A picture of Gabriel hangs on the wall of the house and his story will be prominently displayed. But those good things that have come out of the Gabriel’s death don’t erase the tragedy of his passing. “(The celebration at El Cariso Park) was an emotional thing for me. I’m still shaken up by Gabriel’s death, but it also makes me stronger.
You never heal from a child being murdered,” Carranza said. “We’re not going to walk away from this. We want to make sure the trial be done and we get justice for Gabriel.” The ribbon cutting ceremony for Gabriel’s house begins with a pancake breakfast at 8:30 a.m. The house is located at 38553 E. 4th St., in Palmdale. For more information, call (661) 208-8685.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 27 February 2014 04:41|