Authorities are investigating the suspicious death of a 10-year-old boy at a Lancaster home where both Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and the Department of Children and Family Services had been called out to previously.
After the child’s death, the county removed seven other children from the home.
A source familiar with the investigation but not authorized to discuss it told The Times that authorities had been to the house at least once over child abuse allegations. The source said that the earlier call was about another child in the house and not the boy who died. A relative has also said she called police about abuse allegations in the home several years ago.
Nicole Nishida, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, said only that authorities had contact with the family “prior to this incident” but would not elaborate.
Sheriff’s deputies responded to a medical call about 12:15 p.m. Wednesday and found the boy unresponsive inside his family’s apartment in the 1100 block of East Avenue K, according to authorities. Nishida said the boy “was reported to have suffered injuries from a fall.”
The boy died at a hospital Thursday morning, said Ed Winter, a spokesman for the L.A. County coroner’s office. The coroner’s office has yet to determine the cause of death.
“The death is considered suspicious,” according to the sheriff’s news release. Detectives from the homicide and special victims bureaus are conducting a joint investigation into the child’s death. According to officials, it was boy’s mother who called 911 to report his injuries. Both the Sheriff’s Department and the county Department of Children and Family Services have had prior contact with the family, sheriff’s officials said.
In a statement, DCFS Director Bobby Cagle identified the 10-year-old boy as Anthony Avalos. DCFS officials said they will release information the agency possesses related to the child’s death in the near future as allowed by laws that govern such information about children.
“Today is a sad day as we mourn the death of a child in Los Angeles County,” Cagle said in the statement. “As a community, we ask why a child had to suffer abuse and how we lose innocent children — whether down the street, in a neighboring county, or across the nation. How does this happen?
“As a department, our first and foremost priority is the safety of our county’s children, and we grieve whenever we hear of a child’s death. We also try to understand how such tragedies occur, and we work hard to figure out how they might have been prevented in the first place. But, unfortunately, we are reminded at times that people are capable of the unspeakable.”
Sheriff’s Homicide Capt. Chris Bergner said that the cause of death will be determined by an extensive forensic examination of the boy’s injuries and condition. “Whenever there is a child who gets hurt, it is very serious,” Bergner said. “This is a very fresh investigation in its early stages.”
Seven children, ages 11 months to 12 years, “who either lived at the home or were associated with the victim’s family have been removed from the home pending further investigation,” the department said. Such a move requires that authorities show that leaving the children in the home could potentially endanger them.
Detectives and forensic investigators could be seen removing bags of potential evidence from the apartment overnight. Sheriff’s detectives have interviewed neighbors at the apartment complex, Nishida said.
The aunt of the boy who died told KCBS-TV Channel 2 that she had reported allegations of child abuse in the home three years ago and that police had responded. She said authorities investigated, but she believes they did not find evidence to remove the children.
The aunt, Maria Barron, told the station that the boy suffered a skull fracture and that his mother said it was an accident.
In the last five years, DCFS has been haunted by its shortcomings in the deaths of children whose families it had previously investigated.
In 2013, 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez was killed by his mother and stepfather after months of repeated torture. The stepfather is now on death row while his mother is serving a life sentence.
Four social workers are slated to stand trial on child abuse and other charges in the death of the Palmdale boy they were assigned to protect. In finding there was enough evidence to try the social workers, a judge said that "red flags were everywhere" before Gabriel died and that the social workers mishandled evidence of escalating abuse.
In August 2016, 11-year-old Yonatan Daniel Aguilar was found dead, battered and malnourished in a closet of his family's tiny Echo Park home. Despite allegations of abuse and negligence, school officials, police and social workers lost track of the child before his killing.