Relatives of 10-year-old boy 'beaten to death' by mother for "liking boys" pay him tribute by wearing superhero shirts to his funeral
Young Anthony Avalos' love for protectors like Batman and Superman is what prompted the theme at his funeral service, at his extended family's request.
The funeral of young Anthony Avalos, the 10-year-old who was allegedly beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend, saw mourners wearing Batman and Superman t-shirts in his memory. The service, held in Lancaster, California, on Friday, was attended by more than 150 people.
Prosecutors said the youngster had been tortured by 28-year-old Heather Barron and 32-year-old Kareem Leiva for over five days and was found unconscious at his residence on June 20. At the funeral, the extended family's only intention was to honor the courage of young Anthony.
In a conversation with the Los Angeles Times, David Barron, his uncle, said that the kid always stood up for what's right and was braver than most adults he knew. "With everything going on, with what he was going through, he was always smiling," his uncle said. "It just shows what kind of kid he was."
As confirmed by Brandon Nichols, deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), just weeks before his death, Anthony had "said he liked boys." But Nichols did not reveal when Anthony came out or who he confided to about it.
However, the Sheriff's Department said it is too early to be thinking about motive when asked if homophobia could be one of the possible reasons behind his murder. The theme at his funeral service was inspired by Anthony's love for 'protectors' like Batman and Superman.
At school, Anthony was known to befriend a classmate who was being bullied constantly. Reportedly, he was the only one who protected him from the others. His six siblings revealed that he would always step forward to take the brunt of his mother's and her boyfriend's alleged beatings, thereby protecting them from the abuse. Quite a few who attended the event were seen wearing t-shirts printed with a photo of Anthony that read, "Forever In Our Hearts."
"I promise you that we will not stop fighting for justice," his aunt, Maria Barron, wrote to her nephew on a Facebook post in the Justice For Anthony group. "You have your whole family and community behind you. We Love You So Much." According to court documents, Anthony was found with grave injuries all over his body, including bruises, abrasions, scabs, cuts and a traumatic brain injury.
According to the LA County District Attorney’s Office, Heather has been charged with one count each of murder, torture and child abuse. Leiva was also charged with murder, torture and one count of assault on a child causing death.
How it unfolded
On June 19, upon arrival at his Lancaster home, authorities found Anthony to be unresponsive. The following morning, the boy died after being taken off life support. Leiva is reportedly an MS-13 gang member and was previously convicted back in 2010 of domestic abuse. However, back then, child services did not consider him to be a potential threat.
The boy had earlier reported being beaten, locked up and starved, according to county child welfare officials. Leiva was arrested following the revelations. Police said at the time that homophobia could also have played a part in the murder. Anthony had reportedly "come out of the closet" just weeks before his death. Over a period of several years, a dozen referrals of suspected child abuse to child welfare officials were directed towards the boy and his family.
"During the course of their interview, suspect Leiva made statements that led detectives to arrest him," said Sheriff Jim McDonnell, but declined to explain any further.
Towards the end of Leiva's interrogation with the police, he pulled down a shirt collar to reveal a day-old gouge across his neck, claiming it was a suicide attempt. On June 20, at about 12.15 pm, young Anthony's mother called 911 to report that her son "suffered injuries from a fall", according to investigators. However, when the officers found him, Anthony had cigarette burns all over his body and critical injuries to the head.
At least 16 calls were made to the DCFS reporting abuse of the eight children, who were aged 11 months to 12 years old. Allegedly, several related calls were made by school administrators, family members, one of the children's teachers as well as counselor reporting the suspected abuse. According to DCFS Director Bobby Cagle, the children were allegedly being sexually abused, forced to fight one another, forced to eat from garbage, beaten and bruised.
Shockingly, the children were allegedly dangled upside down from the staircase in the house, forced to crouch for several hours, and denied food and drink, according to those who called in. However, until an autopsy was finalized, McDonnell declined to reveal any specific details pertaining to the boy's injuries.
County child welfare workers removed seven other children, aged between 11 months and 12 years, from the house after the news of Anthony's death broke, in order to transfer them to a safer environment. Sheriff McDonnell said that his deputies had previously responded to Anthony's home several times over the past few years but with no arrests. The most recent response was in April 2016.
He also reported that in order to determine whether proper protocol was followed upon each call, investigators are reviewing each of those cases. When some of the reports of abuse were substantiated, Anthony was removed from the home for several months, said child welfare officials.
He was reinstated back in the residence after a thorough in-home counseling for the family members. When Anthony was four years old, two allegations of sexual abuse were reported to the DCFS. However, at the end of each case, it was determined that his mother was caring for him properly and the cases were subsequently closed. Back in April 2016, when the last referral came in, Anthony was interviewed and the allegations were found to be baseless or inconclusive.
Currently, criminal investigations carried out by social workers who were associated with the distress calls made previously have now been called to be included in the suit. Brian Claypool, the family's attorney, said during a news conference Tuesday: "This is not a case of negligence. This is not a case of the social workers are overworked. This is a case of flat out, deliberate indifference toward the life of Anthony Avalos."
But due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, Cagle has refused to discuss why the 10-year-old was not removed from the home despite multiple cries for help. "Since this is a part of the criminal investigation, I must refer you to the sheriff to avoid the possibility of hindering prosecution," he said in a statement.
"I am focused on cooperating with their investigation and getting to the bottom of what happened, and it would be wrong to speculate while that process is moving forward."
That being said, it would have taken "immense bravery" for young Anthony to come out as a homosexual, said Maria, his aunt. She had frequently voiced her concerns about the treatment of Anthony at the hands of his mother Heather and her boorish boyfriend, Leiva.
Upon noticing bruises that appeared on the bodies of Anthony and his seven siblings, Maria began calling the DCFS back in 2015. According to her, the children complained that Leiva was the one responsible for the bruises and claimed he forced them to urinate and defecate in the spaces that he locked them in. During a conversation with the Los Angeles Times, Maria said that to come out as a homosexual in such a hostile family environment "only reinforces how brave Anthony was."