Despite logging several calls over a period of more than two years, California child welfare workers did not conclude there was any abuse occurring in the home of a 10-year-old boy whose mother and her boyfriend now face accusations they murdered and tortured him, according to recently released grand jury documents.
People that called to report alleged abuse included a day care worker, an assistant principal and the uncle of the slain boy, 10-year-old Anthony Avalos, according to grand jury transcripts in the case that were made public on Monday, TV stations KNBC, KTTV, WLS and the Los Angeles Daily News all report.
According to the grand jury documents, DCFS said it assigned no fewer than 12 social workers to work with Anthony and his family over a period of three-and-a-half years, but that there had been no new allegations in the 18 months prior to Anthony’s death on June 21, 2018 — and that the family wasn’t even being monitored during that period.
However, the L.A. Office of Child Protection reviewed how DCFS had reviewed Anthony’s case and said the question of whether the case was properly handled “cannot be answered.”
Anthony died after being found unresponsive a day before his death at his family’s house in Lancaster, California, outside Los Angeles, where he and his six younger siblings lived with Anthony’s mom, Heather Barron, 29, and her live-in boyfriend, 32-year-old Kareem Leiva.
It was Barron who first called 911 on June 20 to report that Anthony was hurt. She claimed he had been injured in a fall, according to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. But prosecutors say what her son endured was far worse: years of abuse until the very end of his life.
Barron and Leiva, arrested in June, are both charged with one count of murder and one count of torture in Anthony’s death and one count of child abuse in the alleged beating of the boy’s younger brother. Leiva faces an additional count of assault on a child causing death.
They have pleaded not guilty to the allegations, and remain jailed with bail set at $2 million for each.
It remains unclear why the alleged deadly abuse of Anthony occurred, though DCFS officials have suggested it could be because of Anthony’s perceived sexuality after he allegedly stated that “he liked boys.” Another theory was that Anthony was fathered by a man other than Leiva, unlike Barron’s other children.
Anthony’s uncle David Barron — who is Heather Barron’s brother — previously told PEOPLE he doesn’t know if his sister or her boyfriend knew whether Anthony told others he “liked boys.” But he says that the widespread abuse in the home that authorities allege seemed to point to something more endemic.
“It was going to happen no matter what. Maybe it was just to give themselves a reason, I don’t know,” he said. “But I don’t think they needed a reason. I think whatever happened to Anthony was going to happen anyways.”
Horrific Testimony from Siblings
In addition to the calls placed to the welfare agency, the newly released grand jury documents show the testimony of two of Anthony’s siblings.
His 7-year-old brother testified that he was forced to wrestle his brother until he hurt him, sometimes with Anthony’s mother and boyfriend in the room watching.
Anthony’s 8-year-old sister testified that Leiva would also make the kids beat each other. “So the boys would be in trouble so Kareem would have me and [my other brother] beat up Anthony or me and Anthony beat up [my other brother]. Kareem would have us pinch him or sock him.”
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The sister alleged that her mom and Leiva inflicted abuse on her, Anthony and another brother. Both of the adults would punish them by making the children kneel on rice, and Leiva sometimes used his foot to put pressure on their knees, causing them to bleed, she alleged. Afterward, she said she was forced to clean it up.
She alleged the children also were occasionally made to stand in a corner for hours after returning home from school. “Sometimes we would like go in the hallway, the little wall between my room and my mom’s room, we would have to go there on our knees and carry books and with two weights on top tied all together and we would have to hold it for like 10 minutes,” the girl said.
If the books fell, she alleged they were made to start over for another hour.
Authorities allege that, over the last five or six days of his life, Anthony suffered a slew of punishments both quick and prolonged — punishments that, in addition to kneeling on rice for lengthy periods, included having hot sauce poured on his face and mouth, being whipped with a belt on his body, legs, buttocks and the bottom of his feet, and being repeatedly held upside-down and dropped on his head.
The prosecutor said there was evidence the children were allegedly hit with power cords and vacuum tubes, as well as by Leiva’s fists.
Anthony’s sister alleged food often was withheld as punishment, and that after the boys were caught sneaking out for food, an alarm was placed on their bedroom door. The boys were also allegedly forbidden from exiting the room to leave the bathroom, which led to further punishment if they soiled themselves. “Kareem would hold their legs, make them lay down, and put their face in the pee,” the sister said.
In one of the alerts to the child welfare agency, the assistant principal at Anthony’s elementary school called to say Anthony told her he was being forced to dig through trash to find food, and that his mom was beating him, according to the grand jury transcripts.
Anthony’s uncle alleged in a phone call to DCFS that Leiva apparently had beaten and dangled Anthony out of a second-story window by his ankles.
“[Anthony] came to our house and his ears had scabs and bruises on it and he said it was from Kareem dragging him around by his ear. And I go, ‘What else does he do?’ and he said, ‘He picks me up and slams me to the floor and against the wall,'” David Barron told a hotline worker.
In his opening statement to grand jurors in the case, the newly released records indicate that prosecutor Jonathan Hatami said, “The evidence will clearly show that Leiva and Barron are ultimately responsible for the torture and eventual murder of Anthony.”
After the grand jury documents were released, Brian Claypool, an attorney representing the Avalos family including Anthony’s father, who lives in Mexico, told the media: “We know that Anthony Avalos is in heaven with a little smile on his face today.”
“This case is bigger than Anthony Avalos,” he said. “[W]e need to have more transparency … to make sure this never happens again to another child.”