Boy, 11, found dead in Echo Park closet weighed just 34 pounds
The boy in the closet weighed 34 pounds.
When police officers removed the mirrored doors behind which Yonatan Daniel Aguilar had died hours earlier, they found a crumpled blanket on the ground, obscuring his emaciated body — pale and stiff, curled in a fetal position, with cuts on his face.
One officer lifted a corner of the blanket and two cockroaches crawled out. The child was so tiny that officers thought maybe he was 6 years old or so. But he was 11.
Details about the condition of Yonatan’s body when it was found last month in his Echo Park home were disclosed in more than 100 pages of heavily-redacted case records and police reports released to The Times by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services this week.
The records show that Yonatan’s risk of abuse at home had been marked as “high” four times from 2009 to 2012 by a county program intended to guide social workers’ level of intervention.
The boy’s family had been the subject of six prior reports to DCFS, according to the department’s director, Philip L. Browning. Two reports in 2002 predated Yonatan’s birth and involved at least one of his three older siblings.
His mother, Veronica Aguilar, 39, pleaded not guilty last week to charges of murder and child abuse resulting in Yonatan’s death.
The department’s involvement with Yonatan began in October 2009, after a school nurse called the police because he had several 2- and 3-inch scratches on his face, case records show. Yonatan, then 4, told a police officer his mother was angry at him for getting in trouble at school and that she had slapped and scratched him.
Aguilar, denied hitting her son and said he might have gotten the scratches because he sleeps on the floor, according to the family’s case file.
Social workers declined to open a case, saying the allegations of physical abuse were inconclusive. Aguilar, they said, denied slapping or scratching her son, was actively involved in her kids’ school and agreed to take parenting classes, records show.
Officials with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Juvenile Division told The Times last month that although allegations of physical abuse regarding Yonatan were reported to both DCFS and police, no police investigation was launched. They declined to provide details.
Det. Moses Castillo, the supervising detective on the case, said in an email Wednesday that the LAPD would make no further comments about the case. Yonatan’s autopsy report has been put on a security hold by law enforcement, and the cause of death could not be released, said Ed Winter, a spokesman for the L.A.county coroner’s office.
The county’s child abuse hotline received another call about Yonatan and one of his siblings in December 2011, alleging neglect.
The caller said Yonatan was born premature in Mexico, and that Aguilar had been advised to leave him in the hospital for a few months, case records state. She refused to do so and left three days after his birth. He suffered from an inability to control his bladder and bowel movements. (The records have the child’s name and ages redacted, but DCFS confirmed they were referring to Yonatan.)
When Aguilar tried to talk to him, Yonatan did not answer, so she called 911. Paramedics found him to be suffering from hypothermia and took him to the hospital, according to the records.
The boy was again deemed to be at a high risk of abuse, records show. Social workers did not open a case, saying neglect accusations were unfounded and that the mother took the proper steps in calling 911. The high-risk assessment, they said, was based on there being multiple children in the home and prior referrals — factors, DCFS spokespeople said Wednesday, that are weighted heavily, even when reports of abuse or neglect are unsubstantiated.
On March 15, 2012, Yonatan, a special education student with a learning disability, came to school with a black eye and told teachers conflicting stories about how he got it, records show. A school employee contacted DCFS, and police were alerted. No cases were opened.
Four days later, another teacher called DCFS. Yonatan, the teacher said, came to school dirty most of the time. He was always hungry, grabbing all the food he could from the cafeteria and bringing it into the classroom to eat, according to the case file.
Again, there was a high risk of abuse, records show. No case was opened and the allegation was called unfounded. Yonatan was being treated by a doctor and a therapist because of his food hoarding, and the teacher “called in a referral before discussing it with his principal,” social workers wrote.
The boy fell off the county’s radar after 2012, Browning said. There were no other reports about him, and DCFS does not have the legal right to inquire about a child without a report, he said.
By 2016, Yonatan and his siblings lived with their mother and stepfather in a one-bedroom residence on Santa Ynez Street. One child slept in a shed in the backyard, records show.
On Aug. 22, Yonatan’s stepfather, Jose Pinzon, reported the boy’s death to police. Officers found him frantic and crying in the parking lot of a nearby 7-Eleven.
When officers got to the family’s home, Aguilar was outside, walking a dog. After finding the body, records say, one of the officers grabbed the boy’s arm and shook it.
“Are you OK?” the officer tried asking. The boy’s arm was stiff.
Neighbors told police they had never seen a young boy at the home.
The perils of parenting through a pandemic
What’s going on with school? What do kids need? Get 8 to 3, a newsletter dedicated to the questions that keep California families up at night.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.