Gabriel Fernandez was just 8-years-old in May 2013 when he died after being tortured and beaten by his mom Pearl Fernandez and her then boyfriend Isauro Aguirre. The death horrified the Palmdale, California community where the little boy lived, especially after the facts of his case were revealed. Prosecutors said the boy’s skull was fractured, 12 of his ribs were broken, he was forced to eat cat feces, and that he slept, bound and gagged, in a cabinet, according to NBC News. Five years later Gabriel’s abusers were made to pay for the pain that they inflicted on him and they were both sent to prison.
Now Gabriel’s tragically short life story is being shared in Netflix’s harrowing new docu-series, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, which premiered on the streaming platform on Feb. 26, 2020. These are five key facts that you need to know about the schoolboy whose life and death is the subject of Netflix’s latest true crime series:
1. Gabriel’s mom, Pearl Fernandez, was sentenced to life in prison. While Pearl was sentenced in June 2018 to a lifetime in prison, Isauro was given the death penalty. Pearl pleaded guilty to murder back in February that year and a jury found Isauro guilty of murder in 2017. The jury also concluded that Isauro had intentionally tortured the boy. Pearl, then 34, was reportedly expressionless when she addressed the court, reports USA Today, saying she was sorry and wished Gabriel was alive. She also criticized family members who have spoken of their grief over Gabriel, claiming they just want fame.
2. The judge called Gabriel’s murder “beyond animalistic.” Gabriel was repeatedly beaten, starved, tied up, locked in a cabinet, shot with a BB gun, and he once had his teeth knocked out with a bat, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli said. The boy also had a fractured skull, broken ribs and burns across his body. “I can only wish… that it tortures you,” Judge Lomeli told Pearl and Isauro during their sentence hearing. “It goes without saying that the conduct was horrendous and inhumane and nothing short of evil,” he continued. “It’s beyond animalistic because animals know how to take care of their young.” In addition, in the months leading up to his death, Gabriel was covered with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit, regularly gagged to stop him from speaking, and fed cat litter.
Pearl had called 911 on May 22, 2013, to report that her son wasn’t breathing. At the time, she told responding deputies that he had fallen and hit his head on a dresser. Gabriel ended up dying two days later of blunt-force trauma and neglect, the coroner’s office found.
3. Gabriel was tortured because his mom and Isauro believed he was gay. Pearl and Isauro would call the boy gay, punish him if he played with dolls, and even forced him to wear girls’ clothes to school.
4. Gabriel has siblings who testified during the trial. Gabriel’s siblings, his brother Ezequiel, and sister Virginia (who were 12 and 11 respectively at the time of his death), are the ones who testified in court that Pearl and Isauro called the boy gay, NBC News reports. Ezequiel said Isauro would punch and kick Gabriel and pick him up by the neck until he passed out. He also would reportedly beat Gabriel with a buckle and metal hanger while he was naked. In addition, Gabriel’s first-grade teacher, Jennifer Garcia, tearfully addressed the court and said she thinks of him every day and how he just wanted to be loved. “I find comfort in believing he is now at peace,” she said, according to Newsweek. “And I know that, unlike him, his abusers will never have peace. They will have a lifetime of suffering to endure, and I know I’m not alone in hoping they experience the same abuse in their lifetime and worse.”
5. Abuse allegations were investigated prior to Gabriel’s death. As sad as it is, while several agencies investigated abuse allegations leading up to Gabriel’s death, nothing was ever done to protect the child. In fact, on several occasions, investigators concluded there was no evidence of abuse. As a result, two social workers and two supervisors have been fired after missing multiple chances to save Gabriel. In 2016 they were charged with felony child abuse and falsifying public records, but those charges were tossed out by California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal in January 2020.