Anthony Avalos death: 5 years later, family talks grief and why they believe system failed him

Sid Garcia Image
Thursday, June 22, 2023
Anthony Avalos death: Family honors boy's life 5 years later
The Lancaster boy was only 10 years old when he was killed in one of the most haunting cases of child abuse L.A. County has ever seen. His family is now fighting to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else.

LANCASTER, Calif. (KABC) -- He was supposed to be starting his summer after wrapping up his freshman year in high school. Instead, the family of Anthony Avalos dropped off flowers at his gravesite in Lancaster.

Five years ago on June 21, Anthony, who was only 10 years old at the time, died after suffering injuries due to severe physical abuse by his mother and her boyfriend.

Earlier this year, Anthony's mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, were sentenced to life in prison without parole for torturing the boy to death.

The case sparked outrage among the Lancaster community, who has been pushing for better ways to protect young Southern California children from child abuse.

"You see the news on what happened to Anthony and I wouldn't want any other children to suffer like he did," said the boy's aunt Maricruz Avalos. "I know he suffered a lot but always had a smile on his face."

There have been two other young boys who died under similar circumstances in the past 10 years.

One was 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured and killed by his mother and her boyfriend in 2013. The other was 4-year-old Noah Cuatro.

The brutal cases ignited calls for justice and change, especially within Department of Children and Family Services.

"What you can do to help is if you do see something, call the Department of Children's Services anonymously," said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, who prosecuted Anthony's mother and boyfriend. "Call the police anonymously. You can do that."

Anthony's family, however, believes the system failed him.

"The tragedy in this case is that the family did try to do something," said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Saeed Teymouri, who helped prosecute the Avalos case. "They tried to do something and for some reason, it fell through the cracks."

The Avalos family doesn't want another family to go through what they've been through.

"If you see something, please say something. It could save a child," said Maricruz Avalos.