The Murder of Gabriel Fernandez

Kaeden Wise, Writer

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By: Kaeden Wise

Gabriel Fernandez was born on February 20th, 2005 to Pearl Fernandez and Arnold Contreras. Pearl didn’t want another child and ended up leaving him at the hospital. At this point, Pearl already had a history of child abuse. Not long after birth, Gabriel was put into his great-uncle´s care, Michael Lemos Carranza, and his boyfriend, David Martinez. They raised Gabriel for four years. In 2009, Gabriel moved into his grandparent’s house, due to Gabriel´s grandfather having issues with same-sex relations. Fernandez lived with his grandmother until 2012 when Pearl, regardless of her own child abuse charges, fought for and regained custody because she insisted he wasn´t being taken care of correctly and she wanted him back. Family members were not happy with Gabriel being put back in her care and were worried about Gabriel and his well-being. Gabriel ended up staying in his mother’s care for eight months, and this would be the last time Gabriel ever moved houses. During these eight months, Gabriel was abused and tortured. The abuse Gabriel endured included beatings so hard he had broken bones, was forced to eat spoiled food, was burned with cigarettes, was pepper-sprayed, had his teeth knocked out via bat, and was forced to be bound and sleep in a cupboard.

A teacher of Gabriel´s, Jennifer Garcia, began calling CPS after Gabriel showed up to school with bruises on his wrists. Garcia called an abuse hotline and spoke to a caseworker named Stefanie Rodriguez. Fernandez was coming to school with scratches, busted lips, and a swollen and bruised face, and once he came to school with chunks of his hair missing. Garcia called again to report the injuries but Rodriguez refused to listen or talk about Gabriel and said that she visited the house and all children were healthy, clothed, and had no visible injuries. On May 22nd, 2013, Pearl called 911 saying that Gabriel wasn’t breathing. Gabriel had been beaten by his mother and Aguirre because he didn’t put his toys away. When officers arrived, Gabriel was on the ground with a cracked skull, three broken ribs, and burned skin. Gabriel was also missing two teeth when paramedics arrived. Paramedics rushed Gabriel to the ER, where he was confirmed as braindead. He was officially pronounced dead two days later when his heart stopped beating. Gabriel died at the age of 8 years old, and the cause of death was blunt force trauma that was the result of neglect and coincided with malnutrition.

On May 23rd, 2013, Pearl was arrested for felony child endangerment and Aguirre was arrested for attempted murder. When Gabriel died, Fernandez and Aguirre were charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances of torture and prosecutors tried for the death penalty. Fernandez pled guilty on February 15th, 2018 for a plea deal, and was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. Isauro Aguirre pleaded not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder with special circumstances of torture. When the trial for Aguirre began, jurors were given extensive details about the torture. Prosecutor Jon Hatami said that he deserved death. Aguirre´s lawyer stated that Aguirre hadn´t committed a crime before meeting Pearl. The judges considered, and the next day a verdict was reached. On December 11th, 2017, jurors began to come up with his sentence, but they deadlocked. On December 13th, they came to the conclusion that Aguirre should be sentenced to death. Caseworkers who were on Gabriel´s case were also accused of neglecting him. Anytime Garcia called for help, she was told a social worker was on the way. If a caseworker was there, they never did a medical check-up, and if a caseworker walked in, they talked to Pearl, and only Pearl. The four workers in Fernandez´s case, Stefanie Rodriguez, Patricia Clement, and their supervisors, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt were charged with felonies, child abuse, and falsifying records. Their charges were dropped in 2020 when the Court of Appeal stated that failing to notice didn´t constitute for said charges and they aren´t responsible for the child like a parent should be. Fernandez petitioned to be resentenced on April 1st, 2023 but the judge stated she wasn´t entitled to that type of relief and rejected it. 

Today, there are websites, murals, comments on online memorials, celebrations in honor, in-person memorial services, and more to prove how Gabriel is loved. Family and friends gather around a celebration tree in Palmdale California in honor of Gabriel on his birthday every year. Now, more people besides his family and friends visit his memorial on his birthday to celebrate what could´ve and should´ve been a beautiful life. The Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services swore to have a ¨new era of reform¨ in honor of Gabriel. LA CFS added tons of new policies to ensure safety, hired more than 3,000 workers to decrease the number of workers in one case, and retrained caseworkers on how to interview people and notice signs of abuse. After these policies were put in place, several children were killed, not only in the Los Angeles area.  Gabriel´s siblings, Ezekiel and Virginia Fernandez were adopted by a distant relative. There is not much to say about Gabriel´s siblings, as both of them requested their privacy in the documentary. The public tries to this day to find out who they live with, despite their demands.