This is Part 1 of a series on The Warrior Sisters
This Mother’s Day, a group of women who call themselves the “Warrior Sisters” will be spending the day with their families, but not before checking in to have a “chat” and to wish each other a very good day. Daily chats are their routine.
These women, who are moms themselves, have bonded and met under the most tragic and heartbreaking circumstances — the heinous torture and killing of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, 10-year-old Anthony Avalos and 4-year-old Noah Cuatro.
It was 10 years ago, on May 24, 2013, when news broke of the unspeakable cruelty, torture, and killing of Gabriel Fernandez. At that time, there was no such group or support for his cousin Emily Carranza, who while still in shock came forward before the glare of news cameras to demand answers from all involved including the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) when she herself couldn’t fathom the horrific details of the abuse the beautiful child she knew and loved had suffered. While other family members attempted to silence her, Carranza was vocal and direct in sharing any information she had to assist in the investigation.
A working mom, who up to then was focused on life in her Sylmar home raising her children, had never been thrown before such a piercing public spotlight. But she steadied herself to look into the chain of events that had removed Gabriel from a safe home in the Northeast San Fernando Valley with his grandparents and allowed his mother Pearl and her boyfriend Isauro to move him to live with them in Palmdale where he was viciously tortured.
Another cousin from the other side of the Fernandez family, Olivia Rubio, joined Carranza and after a Gabriel’s Justice Facebook page was up and running, they soon found themselves connecting with others to inform them about planned protests, the case and the subsequent trials. Consistent outreach on Facebook pages successfully mobilized other women and concerned mothers who shared their concerns to become bonded. Some lived locally and others would travel from other states — one woman traveled as far away as Canada to attend the trial and offer support.
“To define the ‘warrior family’ or our ‘warrior sisters,’ these are women who we’ve met through protesting, who we met at court, standing for Gabriel, standing for Anthony’s [and] Noah’s family,” said Carranza. “We bonded because these women that we call our ‘warrior sisters,’ that are now family to us — they felt the pain that we suffered.”
Carranza said the women they met had a connection with Gabriel’s story and it “tore them apart.”
“These women entered our lives and we were able to give each other support and when Olivia learned about Anthony, we were able to offer advice and support to his aunt Maria Barron and her family,” she said.
It was crushing for all of them to learn about Anthony, and later Noah — in too many ways — it especially appeared that Anthony’s case was a mirror of the cruel abuse that Gabriel suffered.
With the years-long investigation into Gabriel’s case and the proven neglect and rubber stamping by social workers at DCFS and subsequent trials, it was said that this exposure and new measures taken would put an end to another child falling between the cracks, but when to all of their dismay, it happened again, they knew that their work doesn’t end as a case closes and a verdict is read. They could never go back to what was their “normal life” — their lives now are about creating awareness in the fight against child abuse and creating a positive legacy in the memory of these children whose lives were cut short before they could have a chance in starting. “Olivia is the one who reached out to Maria Barron. When we first heard of Anthony’s story, they formed a friendship, and then Olivia introduced me to Maria. We kind of gave Maria the comfort that she was looking for — or not looking for but that she needed,” explained Carranza.
They would find that Barron was so distraught that she fell into a dark depression after learning of Anthony’s death. She felt every painful emotion as she and her husband had taken Anthony into their home and wanted to raise him, but similarly to Gabriel’s story, DCFS stepped in to return the boy back to the violence he faced in his mother’s home.
“We understood her pain and we built from that. We gave her some advice. Don’t listen to everybody who’s accusing you. Don’t reply to certain things that are going to bring you [down] to stand strong as long as you know the truth. Nobody can get to you. So, we gave her the advice we had learned on the road that we had already traveled.” Barron said the daily chats have been her lifeline and it was a great comfort for her to see Carranza and Rubio with other warrior sisters in the courtroom as the sentence was handed down.
“Having my whole warrior family really helped me throughout the whole court process because Olivia and Emily were constantly letting me know what to expect so I didn’t get blindsided. I went in already preparing myself because my warrior family, you know, they had experienced the same thing and so I will forever be grateful to them for letting me be a part of their family and for Anthony and Gabriel and Noah bringing us together. United, we’re stronger,” said Barron.
With such heinous details released to the media about the torture that Gabriel and Anthony endured, it has been overwhelming to mentally process.
Even for the prosecuting attorney Jonathon Hatami who successfully prosecuted both the Gabriel Fernandez and Anthony Avalos cases, what unfolded was much to bear. He, too, gives much credit to the “Warrior Sisters.”
“The ‘Warrior Sisters’ is truly an incredible and loving group of moms who are so giving of their time and support to victims of crime and their families. They are family members of Gabriel Fernandez, Anthony Avalos and Noah Cuatro who have bonded together to support one another. They know how loss feels. They have personally dealt with tragedy and trauma. Now they are giving back to our community with love and support for others,” said Hatami.
With a core group formed that leaned on each other, that now chats daily, awareness has spread.
“When we gathered for Gabriel’s birthday celebration, they all came. They even came from Tucson, Arizona, and it’s just a bond that we just have together and we all understand our cry for how we feel,” said Rubio. “We share this love and the unity and, you know, we keep that voice for children and for the prevention of abuse wherever they live. One of our warrior sisters is from Tucson, Arizona and she’ll share the awareness out there as well. So it’s not just our voice in California, it’s a voice everywhere we go or wherever they are,” said Rubio.
The “Warrior Sisters” now gather socially with their husbands and children and believe that they all have a greater consciousness of the need for being vocal in “saying something when you see something” and being “better parents.”
“The fact that they support each other, lift one another up, care for the victims and family members of crime, attend court hearings, attend press conferences, are just there for a shoulder to cry on and also lift me up as a prosecutor is a testament to their dedication to our children and everyone’s journey for justice,” said Hatami. “I’m truly blessed to know Olivia, Emily, Maria, Maricruz, Cheryl, Concepcion, Maggie and Eva. And I’m so thankful for their love and support in all my cases. Happy Mother’s Day ‘Warrior Sisters!’” said Hatami.
For more information on these Warrior Women and those who continue to fight against child abuse go to: https://www.facebook.com/Justice4Gabriel/ or https://www.facebook.com/oliviarubioganas?mibextid=LQQJ4d.