The Sad Life & Death of Gabriel Fernandez

26th February 2020  •  6 min read

Gabriel Fernandez was just 8-years-old when he was beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend. During trial, it was revealed that the couple felt hatred towards Gabriel because they had assumed that he was gay.


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On the 22nd of May, 2013, Los Angeles paramedics were responding to a report of a child not breathing. When paramedics arrived at the scene, they found 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. They knew immediately that something much more sinister had taken place. “It was just an unbelievable amount of trauma on his body,” said Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedic, James Cermak.1

Gabriel was rushed to hospital where he was found to have a cracked skull, broken ribs and two missing teeth. BB pellets were also discovered in his lung and his groin and he was riddled with bruises and burn marks. He was declared brain dead and sadly, two days later, Gabriel died from his injuries.

An investigation uncovered a prolonged catalog of abuse at the hands of Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre.

In the months leading up to Gabriel’s death, he was sprayed with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit and was regularly gagged to keep him quiet and locked in a cabinet. In addition, Aguirre and Fernandez burned Gabriel with cigarettes, whipped him, shot him with a BB gun, starved him and forced him to eat cat litter and cat faeces. Gabriel would often be bound, rendering him unable to move, while Aguirre would bite him. In a bid to conceal the abuse, Fernandez and Aguirre put makeup on Gabriel to hide his bruising.2

In the aftermath of Gabriel’s death, it was revealed that a social worker, Gregory Merritt, had been supervising the family. Gabriel and his siblings had initially lived with their grandparents, Robert and Sandra Fernandez; when Gabriel was just one month old, Fernandez had dropped him at her parents’ home, stating she “did not want Gabriel and had no love for the child.”

Robert and Sandra raised the children until October of 2012 when Fernandez returned and said she wanted to reclaim custody. Despite the fact that Fernandez had abused her children in the past and had documented mental health issues and drug abuse issues, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department removed Gabriel from his grandparents. Once back with Fernandez and Aguirre, the abuse began.3

Despite numerous warning signs and reports of abuse to DCFS – including over 60 reports from teachers, therapists and relatives – Gabriel was not removed from the home. In fact, no social worker ever conducted any private interviews with Gabriel or fully examined him for evidence of abuse. One of the reports from a therapist said that Gabriel had confided in her that he was forced to perform oral sex on a relative. Merritt and another social worker, Patricia Clement, had actually closed the case shortly before Gabriel was murdered.4

Four social workers at Los Angeles DCFS were charged with child abuse and falsifying reports. Among the numerous reports to DCFS was several from Gabriel’s teacher, Jennifer Garcia. She reported that Gabriel often came to school with numerous bruises and wounds. Gabriel had confided in his teacher that his mother had shot him in the face with a BB gun and said that he had been beaten with a belt. When Garcia contacted DCFS, they informed her that there would be an investigation. However, no such investigation ever came. Prosecutors stated that the four social workers had falsified reports that would have documented signs of physical abuse.5 Later, the social workers would be cleared of the charges.

During the trial, Prosecutor John Hatami told the jury that the reason Gabriel had endured so much abuse was because Aguirre believed that Gabriel was gay. In fact, as Gabriel was being abused at home, he was forced to wear girls’ clothing to school. “This wasn’t about drugs. This wasn’t about mental health issues. Aguirre did it because he didn’t like him… he believed Gabriel was gay and to him, that was a bad thing… he did it out of hatred of a little boy,” said Prosecutor Hatami.6

He described how Aguirre – who stood at 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 270 pounds – beat Gabriel – who stood at 4 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 59 pounds – to death. “Gabriel’s last vision was that man over there standing over Gabriel, beating him to death,” said Prosecutor Hatami. He also presented text messages between Aguirre and Fernandez that showed that the couple had transpired together to torture and kill Gabriel. “The evidence will show that the defendant is nothing more than a bully. He was a security guard who intentionally tortured and abused a helpless and innocent little boy,” said Prosecutor Hatami.

Aguirre’s defence attorney, John Allan, refuted this and stated that Aguirre had a difficult time in handling stressful situations. He said that Aguirre admitted to causing the injuries on Gabriel but said that he had exploded in a rage after Gabriel told his mother to leave Aguirre. “He is guilty of murder, but the special circumstance alleged, that he intended to kill Gabriel with the infliction of torture, is not true,” said Allan.

Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre.

Gabriel’s older siblings – Ezequiel, 12, and Virginia, 11, – told the court room how Aguirre would punch and kick Gabriel and pick him up by the neck until he passed out. The court room fell eerily silent as a cabinet was rolled in. Ezequiel said that Gabriel would be handcuffed and stuffed inside the box for hours with no food or water. He described how Aguirre and his mother would laugh as they beat Gabriel together and taunted him by calling him “gay” while carrying out the attacks. Virginia also told the court how her mother punched Gabriel so hard that she knocked his two front teeth out.7

Gabriel’s siblings also described how if Gabriel vomited while being forced to eat cat faeces then he would be forced to eat his vomit as well. If he needed to go to the bathroom while locked in the cabinet, he would be forced to go inside the cabinet where he would be locked for hours on end. They also stated that Gabriel was the only one out of them that was abused but Ezequiel said that if he attempted to help Gabriel then his mother would hit him.

On the day that Gabriel was murdered, Fernandez had dragged Gabriel into a bedroom and Aguirre followed. The siblings said that they heard screaming from Gabriel as the couple punched and kicked him. “And that’s when it all stopped,” said Ezequiel. “It just went quiet…”8

After deliberating for a day, the jury found Aguirre guilty of first-degree murder. As the verdict was read, Prosecutor Hatami wiped a tear from his face; he was a survivor of child abuse. Fernandez subsequently pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and admitted to the torture special circumstance allegation in order to be saved from a death sentence. Aguirre was sentenced to death while Fernandez was sentenced to life in prison.

Before reading out their sentences, Judge George G. Lomeli said: “You want to say that the conduct was animalistic, but that would be wrong because even animals know how to take care of their young, some to the extent that they would sacrifice their own lives in caring for their young.” He continued: “I can only wish…that in the middle of the night you wake up, and you think of the injuries that you subjected on this poor young man, this poor 7-year-old, and that it tortures you.”

Footnotes:

  1. The Sunday Mail, 18 October, 2017 – “Man Forced Girlfriend’ Eight Year Old Son to Eat Cat Faeces”
  2. CBS – 3 WTKR, 15 November, 2017 – “Mother’s Boyfriend Found Guilty in Systematic Torture, Murder of 8-Year-Old Boy”
  3. KPCC – 89.3FM, 27 August, 2013 – “Relatives Claim LA County’s Child Welfare System Responsible”
  4. LAist, 3 June, 2015 – “Social Worker Fired Over Heinous Child Abuse Death Wants Job Back”
  5. LAist, 31 January, 2017 – “Teacher Gives Testimony Saying She’d Contacted Social Workers”
  6. International Business, 17 October, 2017 – “Man Tortured 8-Year-Old Boy to Death Because he Thought Child was Gay”
  7. The Sunday Mail, 9 June, 2018 – “Mother Sentenced to Life and Boyfriend Gets Death Penalty After Torturing Son”
  8. LAist, 19 August, 2014 – “Boy Was Pepper-Sprayed, Forced to Eat Feces”

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alexis
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alexis

how come they didn’t think to pick up the signs earlier and just let this child suffer?

jazmin
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jazmin

because the caseworkers didn’t believe him, they had told him to stop lying and plus i doubt they liked their jobs if not they would of helped him . He would of been 20 now 🙁 this is so upsetting. We have a lot of bad people in this world, the caseworkers didn’t even bother on helping or trying to find out what’s going on. He would’ve been alive rn if they helped him. 🙁

Delilah
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Delilah

The case workers didn’t believe him?? But he had visible bruises and wounds all over his body.
The case workers just didn’t want to be bothered. They should be in prison right along side thesr vile slime wad parasites who murderered this innocent, helpless little boy.

Sal Pugliese
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Sal Pugliese

Completely agree! Even now, they have no remorse and feel no responsibility.

Alaia
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Alaia

he would have been 14 not 20 XD you don’t had 13+7, he was 7 when he died in 2013 and its 2020 that was 7 years ago 7+7=14

Alan
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Alan

Who cares if they did the math wrong you child…

liv
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liv

he’s be around 16 🙁

Mackey
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Mackey

I just wanna say he’d be 15 not 20.

Elmas vergudo
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Elmas vergudo

The teacher I would imagine saw this Cycle of him having injuries and missing school over and over and they would worse every time he came back to school the photo when he is holding the M just look at the injuries if I seen a kid with marks like that there is no way I can buy a story like he got that from playing around or falling off his bike if I was the teacher I would of called the principle the counselor other teacher’s bring them to my room showed them the injuries took pics of them… Read more »

Romane
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Romane

The two getting justice served to them isn’t enough. The social workers getting off scott-free is absolutely insane and horrific. Was there any reason to not believing him and falsifying reports?

Sal Pugliese
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Sal Pugliese

EVERYONE ignored his poor cries for help that fell on deaf ears. Even his grandparents who last saw him a month before he died didn’t notice his condition? With all the technology we have available today, his teacher should have taken photos of Gabriel and sent them out to every police station, news station, FB page and so forth until someone, anyone, took notice and did something. This sweet little guy was failed by everyone, police included. And for what reason? So his gay uncle couldn’t continue to raise him? As a gay man myself, I take offense to this.… Read more »

Cheryl
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Cheryl

I agree with you 109%. Being gay doesn’t mean your incapable of raising a child or incapable of love. Looked to me like his uncle and uncle’s partner were perhaps the most loving to Gabriel out of everyone else in his life. As a SW myself, there is NO EXCUSE to allow a child’s word to go unheard. Of course the parents are going to cover themselves with every possible excuse ie: he fell, hit his head etc. unacceptable! That child was done wrong by so many!
It saddens me to the core of my soul.

The truth
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The truth

He was not gay. His uncles and relatives testified that in the trial documentary that gabriel never had any homosexual personality. His mother was psychologically assessed and they concluded her IQ was very low equal to the level of a grade 8 student. The parents only assumed he was homosexual because Gabriel was raised from birth by his homosexual uncles who loved him dearly and Gabriel loved them like family for this reason alone the parents ridiculed him and murdered him.

Deborah Bodden
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Deborah Bodden

This story is horrifying

Rick Hark
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Rick Hark

How the case workers weren’t charged/tried is strange.

Jbee
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Jbee

Look at the chola lipliner-ugh. Just having to grow up with those two ghetto rats is bad enough, without adding abuse to it. Why, why, WHY didn’t someone do something?!

Tom
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Tom

Honestly if you’re going to write a story make sure you’re telling the whole story with only facts. I just watched the documentary and there are so many things that are wrong in your article.

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