DCFS LASD

LA Sheriffs Arrest Suspect in Death of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos—Amid Conflicting Media Reports, and Many Lingering Questions

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has arrested the boyfriend of the mother of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos and charged him with murder.

Just to remind you, around noon last Wednesday, June 20, deputies from the Lancaster station of the LA County Sheriff’s Department responded to a 911 call for a medical rescue. A ten-year-old boy was not breathing.

When the deputies got to the Lancaster apartment, they found the boy to be “non-responsive.”

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, LASD Detective Chris Bergner, and LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger at Wednesday press conference/WLA.

The child’s mother, Heather Barron, said he’d gotten his injuries in a fall. The deputies called for paramedics and the boy was rushed to a nearby hospital, with sheriff’s deputies providing an escort.

We know now, of course, that the mortally injured ten-year-old was Anthony Avalos.  And this was not the first time authorities had been called to his house.

According to Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who held a press conference about the arrest on Wednesday afternoon, detectives from the LASD’s Special Victims Unit, and from Homicide, became involved in the investigation almost immediately after the boy was rushed the hospital.

The detectives worked with the LA County County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to remove eight other children from the household, said McDonnell. The kids, who ranged in age from 11 months to twelve years old, either lived in the home, or were in some way associated with the family.

Anthony Avalos/Facebook

Meanwhile, Anthony, who reportedly had extensive head injuries, survived through the night, but at approximately 6:30 a.m., the boy died.

Despite his mother’s story about the fall, his death was considered by sheriff’s investigators to be “suspicious.”


The arrest

As doctors tried unsuccessfully to save Anthony, the detectives, according to McDonnell, continued their investigation. They began interviewing a wide variety of family members and others, said the sheriff, including Anthony’s mother and her live-in boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, with whom she reportedly had a couple of other children.

According to authorities, Leiva was 10-year-old Anthony’s stepfather.

Kareem Leiva, stepfather to Anthony Avalos, now arrested for murder/Facebook

Although detectives talked to Leiva immediately after Anthony’s death, they did not arrest him, and the man declined to come down to the Lancaster sheriff’s station for a more formal interview until Wednesday morning,

Among the oddities of Wednesday morning’s interview with Leiva was the fact that, as they talked to the man, they detectives noticed he was injured.

His upper chest near his throat—was “lacerated.” Leiva said he had injured himself in an attempted suicide. This and a number of other statements Leiva made in the course of the interview led to the man’s arrest for Anthony’s death.

Leiva’s injuries were bad enough that he was transferred to the hospital for medical treatment. But once released by the medical staff, according to McDonnell and Detective Chris Bergner, who also participated in the press conference, he would be charged with murder. Leiva’s bail will be set at $2 million.  He was reportedly still hospitalized Wednesday night.


Competing stories

One among the many tragic components to Anthony’s death was the fact it reportedly followed a dozen calls to authorities from family members and others about suspected child abuse of Anthony and his siblings.

Yet, the last visit by social workers to check on Anthony was more than two years ago, on April 2016, according to homicide detective Bergner.

Citing anonymous sources, the LA Times reported on June 24 that when 10-year-old Anthony died, his body was covered with cigarette burns and other injuries.

Other media outlets described the boy’s body as extremely malnourished at his death.

Yet, when asked about these injuries, Sheriff’ McDonnell characterized the descriptions as “grossly overstated,” and “not accurate based on what our detectives have seen.”

It has also been widely reported that Anthony “came out” as gay, and that homophobia may have had a role in his death. When asked about the reported homophobia angle, Bergner said the issue “has not come up in our investigation at this time.”

Yet, DCFS director, Bobby Cagel, who was appointed to head the often troubled agency seven months ago, told reporters on Tuesday that, according to caseworkers, at some point, Anthony told his mother that he “liked girls and boys.”

Whether that constituted coming out for the ten-year-old was not clear.

The LA Times and others have characterized Kareem Leiva, now charged with murder, as an MS-13 gang member.

“We’ve heard that,” said McDonnell at the press conference. But investigators had not “corroborated that.”

Mcdonnell confirmed that Leiva has a criminal record, but it is “not extensive,” he said. He did not elaborate.


Preventing tragedy

As the story continues to unfold, accounts by Anthony Avalos’ aunt, Maria Barron, and others were troubling. Barron said she began alerting DCFS in 2015, when she noticed bruises and other injuries on Anthony and his siblings that the children told her were caused by Leiva. She said the children also reported Leiva locking them in small spaces where they had to urinate and defecate on the floor.

DCFS has confirmed these and other complaints of this nature, in addition to reports of sexual abuse of Anthony by a male relative not living in the family home, which Cagel said were “substantiated.”

At Tuesday’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Kathryn Barger introduced a motion asking for a report on the circumstances surrounding and leading up to the death of Anthony Avalos, especially since he had been repeatedly on the radar of DCFS workers.

DCFS director Cagel was present at the meeting as well, and spoke to the board.

“I’ve been here for seven months,” he said.  “But I’ve been doing this work for 30 years and my personal mission, frankly, is around trying to prevent this kind of thing from happening.”

The department is “committed to transparency,” Cagel continued.  And has been “collecting information” about the murder of Anthony Avalos since the moment Cagel learned about it, “in any effort to answer the question, why?

Director of the Office of Child Protection, Michael Nash, former presiding judge of Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Court, also spoke.

“I certainly agree with you about the need for urgency here,” he said of Barger’s concerns about possible lack of resources in the Antelope Valley DCFS office, and about “the quality of services and oversight” provided to DCFS-involved families, having a bearing on Anthony’s death.

“Our office knows we need a greater sense of urgency in LA County.”

10 Comments

  • Take all gangsters kids from them, all gangsters. See I’m equal opportunity like that. Give them to responsible parents, preferably those who want kids that can’t have them. Not to relatives, can’t trust them.

    • Agreed to unfit gangster parents, but it’s not just the gangsters. Look at the abuse , false imprisonment & torture in the case of the 13 children (minors & adults) in the Riverside County case. Who would have thought that would come from a seemingly normal caucasian family in suburban America.

  • This is a typical example of a “can’t win” situation. If The progressive/socialist types have their way, the children should remain in the home and families never be separated as espoused by “which ever the wind blows” politicians, activist members of our judiciary, “opportunist cause” seeking ACLU and anti-establishment media. On the other hand, if DCFS and law enforcement take action, it can be judged as “heavy handed” and hasty by citizen groups. With those employees left alone and facing discipline and criminal prosecution by those same politicians, members of the judiciary and media groups.

    Talk about talking out of both sides of ones mouth at the same time.

  • Wait I thought we shouldn’t call the police. We don’t want to make the stepdad feel bad with a microaggression! “One among the many tragic components to Anthony’s death was the fact it reportedly followed a dozen dozen calls to authorities from family members and others about suspected child abuse of Anthony and his siblings.” THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I HAVE BEEN SAYING. BUT WE DON’T WANT TO CALL THE POLICE? Now, had the stepdad not killed the child CPS would do all it could to keep the child with the so-called mother.

  • Was this due to DCFS lacking recourses? Or ,due to political pressure, are they lacking the will to remove kids from abusive houses? Witness la certainly pushes this agenda. Is there someone out there from DCFS who could comment? Several people from the probation dept stepped up with some great comments after a couple of “hit pieces” from Witness la, it would be great to hear from some people actually doing the work.

  • More “investigations” by the BOS. More reports submitted to the BOS. More testimony by the big wigs to the BOS. More promises to the BOS that “things will change!!”

    More of the same.

    • Oh…and don’t forget the creation of the infamous “”Blue Ribbon Panel (or Commission depending on the degree of required “perceived” self-importance the creators wish to portray).

      Good theatrics, “feigned moral outrage” and optics for the voting public.

  • Hey Here’s One I’m for taking them from anyone raising them in a “hate” or “criminal” environment. That would include Nazis, Klan, New Black Panther Party, all Prison Gangs, fuck em all.

  • What you’re talking about is more the unusual and has been seen in all races and should be prosecuted to the full extent of course.

  • Regretfully, our system is set up to create, support, and encourage “familial dysfunction” by trying to “fix the problem” after its already out of control. When enforcement agencies and their employees are tasked to deal with the “resulting out of control problem”, they are vilified, criticized, demonized and scapegoated by society and oftentimes their employers as the being “heavy handed” and out of line in how they handled things.

    We all know, if DCFS or the police would have intervened and removed this child, activist groups and politicians would have criticized them for racism and accused them of profiling the stepfather as an “alleged gangster”. There would have been countless press congfresses and media coverage in that case, I bet ya.

    Just like the US Supreme Court ruled on President Trumps travel ban, overturning numerous Federal Applelate Court Judges (by the way, they should all feel ashamed for having their decisions overturned) and silencing the ACLU, protests groups and politicians alike, so should our local “leaders” act like they have a pair, and make the tough deciscions that are “BY THE RULE OF LAW” and best for the country as a whole.

    United States of America we stand, Divided States of America we fall.

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