“The conviction of the social workers will be a great victory,” said Emily Carranza, cousin of Gabriel Hernandez, in response to the arraignment of four L.A. County social workers.
Carranza said she has “no sympathy,” for the workers and their supervisors who she said failed to respond to as many as 60 abuse complaints filed for the 8-year-old and then falsified reports to cover their tracks..
“They could have saved him if only they had done their jobs, but they chose to ignore the bruises and the black eyes. They chose to ignore his teacher, and it cost him his life.”
Carranza held a news conference last week with another family member and a friend who began the website “Gabriel’s Justice,” to keep others updated about the case.
“Let this be a wakeup call to other social workers,” Carranza said.
While Carranza doesn’t disagree that the system is “broken,” she said it shouldn’t be an excuse to allow children to suffer. “We know that there are other children like Gabriel out there that are being abused, and this case may have also been swept under the rug, too, had it not been for the pressure on this case.”
Carranza finds it particularly despicable that a social worker interviewed Gabriel in front of his abuser — his mother Pearl Fernandez.
“He was terrified of her. Why couldn’t she have talked to him by himself? Gabriel was tortured, forced to eat cat feces, beaten with a bat, had a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his cry and put in a closet.”
The autopsy report that showed broken ribs and other bones, lacerations, knocked out teeth, bb pellets to his groin area and burns has shocked even the most veteran prosecutors.
She also found it particularly insulting that Gregory Merritt, a supervisor, was able to successfully appeal to keep his job and granted back pay. “He is still being paid to this day,” she said.
Carranza said she didn’t realize her cousin was taken out of his grandparents’ care and was living with his mother and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre. She learned of his death through media reports, and has faced criticism herself for not knowing what was going on.
“Our family saw each other for special occasions, we didn’t see each other day to day, Carranza said. “I last saw Gabriel when he was 7 years old and he looked happy living with his grandparents.”
Carranza said that she has since learned that Pearl took the boy and refused to give him back. Because the grandparents did not go through court proceedings, they were not granted legal custody, so there was little they could do.
“Pearl never bonded with Gabriel, she never raised him. She just wanted him for the welfare money,” Carranza said.
The website “Gabriel’s Justice” has become a place where other victims, many now adults, have shared their stories of abuse and lack of confidence in agencies like the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.