California

At 10-year-old Anthony Avalos’ funeral, family and friends remember the brave little boy who always smiled

When his younger siblings were being beaten, 10-year-old Anthony Avalos would get in the way, taking the hits so the other children didn’t have to.

When school bullies surrounded a smaller, skinny child with glasses, Anthony pushed the bullies away and told them to leave the boy alone. Anthony was that boy’s only friend.

At only 10, Anthony was braver than most adults, always standing up for what was right, his uncle David Barron said.

“With everything going on, with what he was going through, he was always smiling,” Barron said. “It just shows what kind of kid he was.”

At Anthony’s funeral Friday, these were the attributes that his family hoped people would remember about him, rather than recalling only the way his life ended.

On June 21, Anthony died at a hospital after being found unconscious the previous day at the home where prosecutors allege that Anthony’s mother, Heather Barron, 28, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, 32, tortured him for at least five days.

Barron and Leiva have both been charged in Anthony’s death, with Barron facing a possible maximum sentence of 22 years to life in prison and Leiva facing 32 years to life.

On Friday, as Anthony’s body lay in its baby blue casket, the makeup covering the boy’s face couldn’t hide the physical trauma.

An uncle had bought Anthony’s funeral clothing — a tan vest over a button-up shirt and gray slacks — because Anthony didn’t have much of his own, a relative said.

The Rev. Fr. Leo Dechant told Anthony’s family and friends that sometimes, in an attempt to comfort a grieving friend, someone might say, “Anthony is in a better place.”

It’s an understandable thing to say about an abused, starved child who’s no longer in pain, he said. But it ignores the joys that a child should experience in their home.

“Lancaster is a really good place to be a growing 10-year-old kid,” Dechant said. “He shouldn’t have to go to heaven to be nurtured ... to not be abused.”

About 10 miles northeast of the church, a makeshift memorial sits outside the apartment complex where Anthony was found unconscious.

“A hurt child is everyone’s business!” a poster, placed among dozens of stuffed animals, toys and candles, reads. “Do your job!”

It’s a reference to Anthony’s family’s frustration toward social workers they say failed to protect the boy.

Anthony’s relatives have demanded prosecutors criminally investigate any social workers connected to the slain 10-year-old, saying they failed to remove the boy from his mother’s home, despite years of documented abuse.

In total, since 2013, the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services investigated 88 claims of abuse at Anthony’s home, including 15 that were substantiated, a family attorney said.

Callers — who included family members, school administrators, a teacher and a counselor — told DCFS that Anthony and his six siblings had been denied food and water, beaten, sexually abused, dangled upside-down from a staircase, forced to crouch for hours, locked in small spaces with no access to the bathroom and forced to eat from the trash.

At Anthony’s funeral, more than 150 mourners, including family, friends and Anthony’s teachers, filled the pews in Batman T-shirts and Superman capes and shirts, as requested by Anthony’s family because the boy loved superheroes.

He loved the good guys, the protectors — an unsurprising fascination for a boy with the courage to stand up to adults who were supposed to love and care for him.

Times staff writers Sonali Kohli and Nina Agrawal contributed to this report.