The man accused of murdering his girlfriend’s 10-year-old son may not have been driven by homophobia as suggested by earlier news reports that the victim was killed weeks after announcing he “liked boys,” authorities say.
Anthony Avalos died on June 21 after being found unresponsive a day earlier at his family’s apartment in Lancaster, California. His mother, Heather Barron, initially had claimed he was injured in a fall, which investigators dismissed in arresting her boyfriend, 32-year-old Kareem Leiva, on suspicion of Anthony’s murder. (Barron has not been charged with a crime.)
An autopsy is not yet complete that would reveal the exact cause and manner of Anthony’s death, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said Wednesday at a news conference announcing Leiva’s arrest.
Officials with the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, which investigated 13 prior allegations of child abuse at the boy’s residence between February 2013 and April 2016, initially raised homophobia as a thread they wanted to investigate in Anthony’s death, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Anthony recently “said he liked boys,” according to DCFS Deputy Director Brandon Nichols, and Anthony’s aunt said it would have been a brave move for him to come out as gay in his home, the newspaper reported.
But when asked Wednesday if anti-gay bias may have motivated the suspected killer, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Bergner told reporters, “That has not come up in our investigation as motivation at this time, no.”
Added Sheriff McDonnell: “We wouldn’t discuss motive at this point [in the investigation]. Too early.”
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Eight children have since been removed from the residence — where Leiva lived off-and-on with Anthony’s mother — and are currently in DCFS custody and awaiting placement, McDonnell said.
He dismissed as “gross overstatements” earlier reports that Anthony’s body was covered with cigarette burns. “Our detectives did not see burns like that on the victim’s body,” he said.
Capt. Bergner said: “There were some injuries on Anthony, but we don’t want to make any statements as to the extent of the injuries until we have some type of medical certainty from the coroner’s office.”
Leiva, who was hospitalized for a laceration suspected to be self-inflicted, is being held in lieu of a $2 million bond and has not appeared in court, the sheriff said.
An attorney who could speak on his behalf was not immediately identified.
Leiva was interviewed by authorities and “made statements that led detectives to arrest him,” McDonnell said.
“I can tell you that what the investigators learned led them to believe they could file for charges of murder, which he is going to be booked on,” he said.
Among the calls to DCFS alleging prior abuse at the residence, the first in 2013 reported sexual abuse by a grandparent who did not live with Anthony — then 4 years old — or the other six children then living in the home, according to the Times.
Other allegations included sexual, emotional and physical abuse as well as neglect, the newspaper reported.
Anthony’s aunt, Maria Barron, told the Times that living in an allegedly abusive situation and coming out “only reinforces how brave Anthony was.”
Maria said she began alerting DCFS in 2015 to bruises and other injuries she began noticing on the children, which she alleged were caused by Leiva.
She told the department the children alleged Leiva had locked them in small spaces where they had to urinate and defecate on the floor, according to the newspaper.