"My son didn't have no problems," Padilla said. "He was just a fighter, that's all, and when I wasn't around for a while he got away from his grandma. She's old and she couldn't handle him too good."
"He said at school he stays in the classroom because he can't make friends, except for the second or third graders because they are nicer to him," a social worker wrote in June 2004, when he was 13.
That spring, Miguel was measured for a prosthetic arm he desperately wanted. Months later, he had to be re-measured; he'd missed so many appointments his size had changed.
Meanwhile, he wore a down jacket to hide his disability, said Denise Tomey, executive director of the Carousel Ranch in Santa Clarita, where he spent six months in a riding program for disabled kids.
"He had no self esteem," Tomey said in an interview. "He walked with his head down and he wore that heavy jacket, even if it was 105 degrees out. He thought people judged him because he was missing an arm."
Tomey and Rentz both remembered the boy showing a softer side, such as when he helped other kids at the ranch learn to ride and groom horses.
"I have a heart," he told a probation officer in March 2006. "I care about people. When I have opportunity to do something really bad I think about it."
But he also had a penchant for trouble: He faced charges for allegedly threatening and assaulting a teacher. He also was accused of burglarizing a home, vandalizing cars and tagging a fence with gang graffiti.
Cumulatively the charges were enough to land Miguel in the care of the Probation Department and in a succession of juvenile hall and group home placements.
Along the way, probation reports show, he joined a Newhall gang; picked up the nicknames "Little Shadow" and "Lefty"; and told authorities he used marijuana and alcohol. He liked school but was "not that smart," he said, and during one stretch of heavy absenteeism he pulled straight Fs.
By May 2006, his great-grandmother was overwhelmed. "I cannot take him," she told probation officials. "He is not well. He asks me to make him well. . . . He yells out loud to me, 'Cure me.' "
Miguel spent the last two years of his life in multiple placements, running away at least once before going to the Haynes Center. One probation report called him "a continual behavior problem."
While Miguel was in juvenile detention, psychiatrist Saul Niedorf concluded that the boy's impulse control had been impaired by brain damage from the electrocution. Until then, apparently, no one had considered that possibility.
Niedorf recommended a "structured, therapeutic setting" for Miguel, and he was sent to the Haynes Center, which is licensed to house 72 boys, in January 2008.
The day after his last court hearing that month, his father and great-grandmother left for Mexico, asking a social worker to visit him in their absence. In a March 2008 letter seeking official permission to stop by, the social worker said Miguel had had no weekend visitors for two months.
"I have been informed that the minor has been struggling lately and I believe he may benefit from the interaction," she wrote.
A month later he hanged himself.
Taylor, the county's probation chief, defended his department's handling of the case but acknowledged that the death highlighted the need to better understand why so many children who pass through the child welfare system end up in the care of his agency.