Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Peace for Gabriel, agony for the rest of us

The teacher “said the boy told her he had been shot in the face by a BB gun and had ‘perfectly circled bruises all over his face.’”

I can’t get these “perfectly circled bruises all over his face,” mentioned in aa article in the Los Angeles Times a couple weeks ago, out of my head. I guess I’ll never forget this and that it was one of the abuses done to an eight-year-old boy, Gabriel Fernandez, by his mother and her boyfriend.

Just like I can’t forget Johnny, who I posted about a couple years ago. Johnny was a boy about the same age abused by his mother and her boyfriend. Among other things, he was repeatedly burned all over with cigarettes and made to sit in his piss and shit and eat from a dog food bowl.

At least Johnny was rescued and reportedly thrived in a new home. Eight-year-old Gabriel, who lived in Palmdale near Los Angeles, died after suffering numerous injuries resulting from abuse, including a fractured skull, several broken ribs and burns. Pellets have also been found embedded in his lungs. The mother and the boyfriend, who said that Gabriel was being punished for “lying and being dirty,” were taken into custody, charged with murder and torture.

In addition to the pellets embedded in Gabriel’s lungs and other details about the injuries that he was made to suffer, such as black eyes and a “busted lip” as noted by the teacher, a steady stream of subsequent articles in the Times revealed that the county’s Department of Children and Family Services was well aware of the boy’s situation and did precious little to protect him. Social workers got many concerned calls about the child, including from the teacher, and they knew that the mother and the boyfriend were heavily involved in drugs and criminal activities, including with other children, but they were “overwhelmed” by hundreds of pages of sometimes contradictory rules as well as tremendous pressure to keep families intact.

When social workers would interview Gabriel in front of his mother and her boyfriend about his reports of abuse, he would recant them. Duh! And when the 8-year-old expressed a desire to commit suicide, the social workers dismissed it, because the boy “had no plans for carrying it out.” Several workers have been put on “desk duty” while the case is being investigated.

So Gabriel was tortured and killed, lost due to red tape and incompetence. The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has been known for poorly trained and swamped staff and its shoddy work and sometimes tragic record, since before Johnny was made to endure incomprehensible abuse until he was finally rescued after dozens of allegations.

Yes, this is outrageous - and there has been many commentaries and letters in the paper expressing outrage over what happened to Gabriel. It is tragic that this county department, which does vital and wrenching work, isn’t as well-funded and supervised as it must be, and I’ll add that there is a bitter irony in caring people not being able to adopt children in many places because of being gay or lesbian.

But what really bothers me, what I really want to know, is this: How can this be a society in which a parent can even think of punishing a child by using a BB gun to leave “perfectly circled bruises all over his face?”

1 comment:

  1. Dear John:

    Gabriel's face continues to haunt me. Thank you for reminding us of the fate of children such as him who need the adults in their lives to step up and step in as needed.
    fyi, I've finally decided to step in. Within the next 12 months, I'm going to move to a bigger place and go through the foster parent training process so that I may be of use to a needy local child.