This Father's Day marks a grim anniversary. Two years ago, 10-year-old Anthony Avalos died from a traumatic brain injury.
"Bruises from head to toe. His big, big eyes. They were just closed and eyelashes were so wet," recalls his aunt Maria Barron as she weeps.
COVID-19 has delayed justice.
Anthony's mother Heather Barron and her boyfriend Kareem Leiva face felony murder charges that include a hate motive for allegedly attacking Anthony because they believed the child was gay.
Leiva's trial date had been set for September 2020 followed by Barron's trial. A new configuration for courtrooms is planned to allow for physical distancing. A jury trial may be postponed until next year according to prosecutor Jon Hatami.
Anthony's family members say that Barron and Leiva manipulated the children so that they would lie to investigators and that the couple was skillful at deception.
Anthony's case was all the more horrifying because it was so similar to the 2013 torture and murder of Gabriel Fernandez whose death was profiled in a Netflix series, "The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez."
Glaring lapses by the Department of Children and Family Services were exposed and were followed by reforms that continue today.
Five years later, in 2018 Anthony was killed. In 2019, the victim was 4-year old Noah Cuatro. All three boys had a history with the Department of Children and Family Services.
Child welfare officials say that in Anthony's case, Heather Barron always had an explanation that satisfied social workers. Then complaints vanished.
Anthony's family says complaints disappeared because the defendants isolated the children.
"They were threatened if they even attempted to call us or talk to us, if they saw us," says Anthony's aunt Crystal Duiguid.
Once, on a visit at the home of David and Maria Barron, the aunt physically barred Heather Barron from taking the children.
Maria Barron says that during a supervised visit, the mother was able to get them alone and coaxed them into recanting their accounts of abuse as she recorded them on her cellphone.
The children say they were forced to fight each other, were beaten, and intermittently deprived of food. Anthony had hot sauce poured on his face, was forced to kneel on hard kernels of rice and was repeatedly dropped on his head.
A vigil was held Sunday, June 21 at a tree dedicated to Anthony at 43748 Challenger Way in Lancaster. Family members who attended the vigil say that while it's obviously a difficult time for everyone involved, they're trying remain positive and celebrate Anthony's life while still seeking justice.
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