Long before 8-year-old Gabriel died, his relatives, teachers and even other mothers at school saw signs he was being brutally beaten at his Southern California home, where he lived with his mother and her boyfriend.
Protesters on Monday demanded justice for Gabriel - and measures to protect other children from a similar fate. They said the boy's case exposes critical failures in a system meant to protect children.
Gabriel was living with his grandparents until October, when his mother, Pearl Fernandez, 29, won legal custody of him. Now, Fernandez is accused of allowing her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 32, to torture her youngest child to death. They were both in custody and Aguirre was expected to be charged with murder Tuesday.
Protesters, who plan to attend Aguirre'sTuesday arraignment, are accusing the Department of Child and Family Services of failing to respond to months of complaints that Gabriel was being abused.
"There was also a time when he told me about a BB gun (shot) to the face," said his teacher, Jennifer Garcia. "And he had perfectly circled bruises all over his face."
The teacher said she had frequently contacted the Department of Child and Family Services, but the agency's social workers did nothing.
On Wednesday, deputies found the first-grader's broken body at his home in Palmdale, about 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
Gabriel was barely breathing. His bones were broken. He had burn marks all over his body and he bore wounds that indicated he had been tied up and tortured.
He died Friday at a hospital.
"We loved him. And we miss him," said Robert Fernandez, Gabriel's grandfather. "We're gonna try probably in the near future to have the law changed, where these people that are doing these things have no rights to their victims."
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