It’s said that one never dies as long as you speak their name, and hundreds of people from all walks of life gathered last weekend to remember Gabriel Fernandez. They wrote messages vowing to never forget him and added mementos to “Gabriel’s tree,” which grows in front of the Palmdale apartment — a house of horrors for the little boy who was tortured to death. He was taken by his mother from the comfort of his grandparent’s house where he lived in the Northeast Valley to Palmdale and refused to return him.
On Saturday, a huge crowd made up of people from all walks of life could be heard a block away as they sang “Happy Birthday” for what would have been his 18th birthday on Feb. 20.
Gabriel, however, only lived to be 8 years old — he was continuously abused, which in the end caused his murder in 2013 at the hands of his mother Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre.
It was an emotional day for Gabriel’s cousins — Sylmar resident Emily Carranza and Liv Rubio — who have been seeking justice for him from the beginning.
“It’s heartwarming — even after 10 years, the community still remembers him. It feels good, they love him,” said Carranza.
It was a “heavenly birthday celebration for Gabriel,” that began with a long procession of cars including a stream of lowriders and motorcycles. Doves and white balloons were released into the sky as people sang and a DJ played music throughout the day. A large sized Mutant Ninja Turtle — Gabriel’s favorite — strolled among the crowd taking photos with the kids who also had their faces painted like the character.
Many wore shirts with Gabriel’s image and spoke about the impact the boy’s short life had on their own. One man who attended with his son said he was “a better father because of Gabriel.” A nurse who had cared for Gabriel during his last hours traveled from Texas to be there. A lot of hugs were exchanged between people who hadn’t seen each other for a time or even strangers who had become involved or moved in some way — some had become involved online as a member of Gabriel’s Justice Facebook page, others were first responders, or followed the trial.
“It was breathtaking, it made me cry,” Rubio later reflected. “It came out just the way he wanted it to be.”
As much as the day was an acknowledgment of Gabriel’s birthday, it was also a rallying cry to change the system. Some spoke of the current effort to locate mural space in Los Angeles to raise more awareness for what happened to Gabriel and continues to happen to other children.
Information tables were set up for Foster Care and Parents of Murdered Children who displayed photos of numerous children whose lives were taken.
Speakers noted that despite the widespread coverage and public outrage over the torture that Gabriel endured, the Department of Children and Family Services and police authorities are still not responding properly to reports of child abuse.
Another child, Anthony Avalos, was killed in very similar circumstances five years after Gabriel’s death. Anthony’s mother and her boyfriend are currently standing trial for murder.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami was at the helm of Gabriel’s case and prosecuted his killers and he is now attempting to do the same currently in the Anthony Avalos case.
But Anthony’s family members who attended the heavenly birthday event for Gabriel, are asking, “Why?”
Why didn’t authorities properly respond yet again and remove Anthony before it was too late?
“There were multiple reports about Anthony, they should have saved him,” said Maricruz Avalos, Anthony Avalos’ aunt. “They really failed,” said Victor Avalos. “As a parent, as a father of Anthony, there’s no words.” He said like Gabriel’s father, he didn’t live with his son. He said he was in Mexico at the time of Anthony’s death.
Family members of Gabriel and Anthony are now linked — brought together by the worst of circumstances that have completely changed their lives. None of them were accustomed to speaking before the media or pressing for legislation before, but one day to the next — news media was upon them and despite their discomfort, they found they had to step forward and speak out.
“You would think that all that Gabriel went through that the laws would have changed but they didn’t,” said Maricruz.
While many claimed they would take action following the massive publicity and a shocking Netflix documentary on Gabriel’s gut-wrenching torment, legislators have yet to pass bills that could thwart child abuse.
Hatami spoke of the need to hold social workers and police accountable when they fail to protect children. Other speakers called for the passage of “Gabriel’s Law,” which would create a central database requiring counties to input child abuse reports which would provide various agencies access and share information about these cases.
“Children don’t have anybody supporting them in Sacramento,” said Hatami. “They [children] don’t have any money,” he said. “They don’t have a political party, they are not Democrats or Republicans.”
Carranza has maintained that they will continue to remember these children and not let the world forget their names.
“We all as a community need to fight for children,” said Hatami.
We will remember and speak your name Gabriel! We will never forget you or the wonderful people that helped bring justice to your abusers.
Gabriel was so brave to endure the unspeakable acts of Pearl and her evil boyfriend. He like most innocent children still adored his mother and just wanted to be loved. Thank you Jon Hatami for fighting for these children who have no voice, and no one to protect them from the very people who are supposed to care for them. We will NEVER forget your name, Gabrielito.
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