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Home Where 8-Year-Old L.A. Boy Died Had Been Investigated Six Times Over A Decade

An 8-year-old boy who died Friday in Palmdale, L.A. after being beaten had remained in the house where the alleged abuse occurred despite six investigations by social workers during the past decade.

Social workers appeared to miss numerous warnings signs at the home, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday, citing county documents.

According to the paper, when paramedics arrived at the home, Gabriel Fernandez's skull was cracked, three ribs were broken and two teeth were knocked out of his mouth. Upon medical examination, doctors found he had BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin.

At the house authorities found a note written by the boy saying he was thinking about suicide.

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The boy's mother, 29-year-old Pearl Fernandez, and her 32-year-old boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, have been charged with murder. 

The documents obtained by the paper show Aguirre allegedly told investigators that he beat the boy repeatedly for lying and being dirty. Pearl Fernandez told paramedics her son's injuries were due to self-mutilation, the paper reported.

Meanwhile, four social workers have been given desk duty pending possible disciplinary action.

"I feel like they all should be fired," said Elizabeth Carranza, Gabriel's aunt. "They didn't listen to my nephew. They were completely deaf and blind."

There were six investigations into abuse allegations involving the mother, with five determining the claims were unfounded. Records show there was an unresolved case of alleged abuse at the time of Gabriel's death, and an allegation had lingered two months past a legally mandated deadline for finishing an investigation.

"The red flags were all over the place. They were ignored. It is just inexplicable to me," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

The county's Department of Children and Family Services has been trying to institute reforms after dozens of abuse and neglect deaths in recent years involving children who had been under the agency's supervision.

A recent internal review of the department found there haven't been any workers fired in 15 cases where children died. It also has a backlog of child abuse cases.

The agency's director Philip Browning acknowledged the system failed Gabriel. The case illustrates a need for more critical thinking and common sense in evaluating cases, he said.

County social workers became aware of Pearl Fernandez a decade ago when her oldest son had a head injury during a car accident. It was determined he wasn't wearing a seat belt.

The Times said a relative later reported she allegedly beat the same son and wanted to disown him. However, social workers said the complaint was unfounded.

Gabriel's teacher told authorities in January there were bruised dots all over the boy's face. Gabriel told the teacher his mother shot him in the face with a BB gun, records show.

The boy often recanted his stories, and an internal county review criticized social workers for failing to interview Gabriel in a neutral setting away from his mother, who told social workers in March she didn't need their help.

The boy's therapist told workers earlier this year that Gabriel once reported being sexually abused by an older relative, but he later withdrew the allegation. The investigation remains open.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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