Gabriel Fernandez is an 8 year old boy whose life was caught short after being abused and tortured by his mother and her boyfriend. The Docuseries ‘The Trial Of Gabriel Fernandez’ on Netflix captures the event surrounding the tragic death of Gabriel Fernandez in May, 2013.
Who Is Gabriel Fernandez?
Gabriel Fernandez was born on 21 February 2005. He lived with his grandparents and uncle at different times before his mother, Pearl Fernandez, took him in reportedly to gain welfare benefits. Pearl Fernandez, her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre and two siblings in Palmdale, lived together in Los Angeles.
Based on events in the series and the news reports following Gabriel’s death, Gabriel’s well-being took a devastating turn in 2012, when Pearl Fernandez took him in despite concerns from her family that she was neglectful toward her other children. Footage of his time with his uncles shows an apparently happy and healthy child.
After joining his mother and Aguirre, Gabriel landed at a new school. Shortly after starting there, his teacher, Jennifer Garcia, sensed that things were not okay at home. Garcia, who appears throughout the six-part series, says that a couple weeks after he started in her classroom, Gabriel asked her, “Is it normal for moms to hit their kids?” When she pressed him, Gabriel asked if it was normal to be hit with a belt buckle. “Is it normal for you to bleed?” he asked, according to Garcia.
Garcia reported the exchange to the Los Angeles County child abuse hotline and the case ended up with a social worker, Stefanie Rodriguez. According to the documentary, Rodriguez never adequately made the inquiries needed to determine the condition of Gabriel’s home life.
A 2018 investigation into Gabriel’s case published in The Atlantic by the journalist Garrett Therolf, who also appears throughout the series, cites L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) records to show that Rodriguez never received information that showed Pearl Fernandez had a history of abusing or neglecting her other children. And although Rodriguez and other representatives from agencies designed to protect children visited Gabriel’s home multiple times, the social workers never found signs of abuse strong enough to warrant removing him from his home.
Prosecutors would later charge Rodriguez and three other social workers with child abuse and falsifying records in Gabriel’s case. In a brief statement to The Atlantic, Rodriguez said that at the time she was responsible for Gabriel, she was overseeing other children whose conditions she felt were equally or more dangerous.
As the school year went on, the abuse Gabriel endured worsened. He began coming to class with patches of hair missing, scabs on his scalp, injured lips from being punched in the face and bruises all over his face after his mother shot him with a BB gun. According to grand jury testimony obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Gabriel’s siblings said he was forced to eat cat litter and was kept locked in a cabinet in his mother’s room. They said Fernandez and Aguirre called him “gay” and punished him for exhibiting feminine qualities, like playing with dolls.
After Pearl Fernandez called 911 on May 22, 2013 to report that Gabriel was not breathing, the paramedics who responded found him with broken ribs, a cracked skull and BB pellets stuck in his body. In the documentary, one paramedic who arrived at the scene says Gabriel’s case was the worst she ever encountered in her career. The severe abuse was immediately obvious to first responders.
Gabriel was taken to the hospital and later declared brain-dead. He died on May 24, 2013.
Witness testimony included in the series and court documents show that Fernandez and Aguirre undoubtedly abused Gabriel during the time he was in their care, and eventually tortured him until he stopped breathing.
Aguirre was sentenced to death in 2018 following a conviction for first-degree murder with the special circumstance of intentional murder by torture in Gabriel’s death. Pearl Fernandez pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and received a life sentence in prison without parole.