Maria Alcantar sat on her front stoop on Friday afternoon as beans boiled inside her South Los Angeles home. They would be served at a vigil for three young neighborhood boys stabbed to death, allegedly by their father.
“We’re all just confused,” she said.
Ever since Luis Fuentes’ wife died sudenly in 2008, he had been plagued by depression, say those who know him. Family tried to distract him by taking him to the beach and inviting him to barbecues, but nothing seemed to work, relatives said.
And nothing prepared his family and friends for the news that swept through their circles on Wednesday morning when the three sons Fuentes had fathered with his now-deceased wife were found fatally stabbed in the back seat of a silver SUV.
Fuentes, 33, sat in the front seat, seriously wounded. Police believe he stabbed himself with a kitchen knife.
On Friday, police booked Fuentes in the death of Luis Alfanso Fuentes, 10; Juan Daniel Fuentes, 9; and Alexander Fuentes, 8. Online records say that he is being held on $3-million bail.
As police detectives piece together the events that led to the stabbing, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has launched an investigation into whether social workers adequately probed several allegations that the boys were at risk and whether staff responded appropriately to what they learned.
The DCFS involvement with the family began in March 2010, when someone called the county’s child abuse hotline to allege that the boys were being physically abused, said two officials who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case. Social workers were unable to prove or disprove the allegation and marked it inconclusive, the officials said.
Another hotline call alleging abuse came in September 2010. Social workers determined the allegation to be true, and lawyers for DCFS petitioned the juvenile court to open a case, officials said. The boys reportedly remained in the father’s home until the case was closed about a year later.
Two more hotline calls alleging physical abuse were made in April 2014, the sources said. Social workers investigated the allegations, finally marking the claims “inconclusive” in October.
DCFS had no further contact following last year’s hotline calls, despite at least one call to police about an argument in recent months. Investigators will now analyze whether police shared that report with the DCFS child abuse hotline.
Armand Montiel, spokesman for the department, declined to immediately comment on the case, which is shielded by confidentiality laws meant to protect the privacy of youth in the child welfare system.
On Friday night, at the home where the boys recently lived, neighbors and relatives prayed beside a statue of our Lady of Guadalupe and photos of the three boys.
Candles flickered in front of the white-cloth covered table. Dogs barked and children played in the background as the adults’ voices rang out in Spanish, asking that the three brothers find eternal rest.
Many in the neighborhood said the children seemed happy and vivacious, and loved playing soccer at a nearby park.
Marisela Nuño used to run a day care center across the street from where the family lived. She said she met Fuentes shortly after his wife died of a brain aneurysm. The three brothers attended her day care for years, until it closed in January 2014. Nuño and her husband kept in touch with the Fuentes family.
In August, Nuño’s family, along with the Fuentes brothers, went to the beach. The children played in the sand. “The children seemed happy,” she said. “They seemed well.”
A few days later, Nuño heard from a neighbor that the family was living on the streets. Her husband spoke with Fuentes, and offered them a place to stay. He said the family was staying with a relative.
“He was a very proud man,” she said. “He didn’t want to ask for help.”
Nuño said that Fuentes thanked her husband and said he would call if they needed help. On Wednesday, she heard about the killings and her heart sank, she said.
Nuño recalled a father determined to provide for his children. And, she said, when the kids would leave her care, they were always happy to see their father.
Times staff writers Benjamin Oreskes and Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.