Last week, four teachers and a principal were placed on leave after a photo of the educators posing with what appears to be a noose circulated on email and social media. The origin of the noose and circumstances around the photo are currently under investigation amid outcry from parents and others in the community.
The photo of the four teachers smiling and holding a noose was shared online without a caption or context. Some parents who learned about the image said it was taken and distributed by the Summerwind Elementary School principal, longtime educator Linda Brandts.
One of the teachers in the photo is Jennifer Garcia. Garcia was the first-grade teacher of Gabriel Fernandez, the 8-year-old boy who was tortured and murdered by his mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, and the mother's boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, in 2013. She repeatedly reported signs of abuse before the boy's death and testified in June.
"They are evil," she said about the mother and boyfriend at the hearing, where Fernandez was sentenced to life in prison and Aguirre was sentenced to death.
A law enforcement source told The Times that according to someone connected with Gabriel’s family, the photo was taken in celebration of Aguirre’s death penalty sentencing. That theory also surfaced with comments of a Facebook post on a page dedicated to Gabriel.
But Emily Carranza, one of Gabriel’s two cousins who has been advocating for his justice and is one of three administrators on the page, said Garcia has not been in contact with her regarding the photo.
“Do not tie that horrible picture with my cousin,” she said. “That’s not how you celebrate someone’s conviction. That noose represents everything Gabriel went through.”
Garcia was not available to comment on the photo, which surfaced nearly a year after Fernandez and Aguirre were sentenced.
Garcia, a witness during the murder trial for Gabriel, will probably be called to testify during a trial for four Los Angeles social workers connected to Gabriel’s case. In September, a judge concluded that the boy’s death was foreseeable and denied a motion to dismiss charges against the social workers, citing improper documentation of Gabriel’s abuse and his mother’s refusals to attend counseling.
The superintendent’s office of the Palmdale School District is holding a town hall Tuesday to address the community’s questions.
“We will be addressing the actions that are being taken to ensure these kinds of incidents NEVER happen again,” Supt. Raul Maldonado said in a statement.