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Trail of L.A. social workers alerted to plight of 11-year-old found dead in closet

In order to understand the heartbreaking death of 11-year-old Yonatan Daniel Aguilar, it’s important to go back well before his death and even his birth, when not one but six reports about his family were made to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) between 2002 to 2012.

Aguilar’s body was found on Aug. 22, wrapped in a blanket inside a closet in his family home. Hours later his mother, Veronica Aguilar, 39, was arrested and charged with murder and child abuse.

In 2012, two of Aguilar’s teachers contacted DCFS. One reported the boy suffering from general neglect, and the other said the boy had a black eye.

Social workers interviewed a special education teacher and a soccer coach, and contacted L.A. police about the black eye. County officials deemed the boy’s home to be a safe environment.

The boy told authorities at the time that his black eye came from having fallen on a pile of rocks.

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After receiving a court order allowing him to talk to the media, Philip L. Browning, DCFS director, spoke to Fox News Latino about the Aguilar case and how his department handled it.

“Social workers pulled aside the children and parents and interviewed them separately,” Browning said. “We want all of our social workers to do that. In this situation, there were a number of phone call referrals, and the workers acted quickly and interviewed a lot of professional individuals who knew the child, and those people thought this was a safe situation.”

Despite the department's efforts, Aguilar was found dead four years later.

Two reports were made in 2002, prior to Aguilar’s birth, involving at least one of his siblings, Browning told the Los Angeles Times.

It’s been reported that Aguilar has three siblings – ages 14, 16 and 18 – none of whom were at home at the time his body was found. The minors have been released to the department of Child Protective Services.

In 2009, DCFS was contacted by Aguilar’s school with a report of possible physical abuse. A school nurse was interviewed, the principal and a school psychologist, and the investigator concluded there was no basis for the abuse allegations.

Additionally, LAPD investigated the report.

“There was not just one set of eyes here,” Browning told the Times. 

In 2011, a hospital social worker reported that Aguilar was suffering from general neglect. After both doctors and a clinical therapist were interviewed, social workers determined the case was not worth pursuing.

By 2012, Yonatan seemed to fall off the map. There’s no record of him attending L.A. County schools. It’s been reported that the family may have spent some time in Mexico, and authorities believe the family has moved around several times.

Aguilar’s case comes on the heels of another high-profile child abuse and murder case in Los Angeles in 2013, involving 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. Four California social workers have been charged with felony child abuse and falsifying records in connection with his brutal beating and murder.

“From 2009 to 2012, we believed that [Aguilar] was in a safe environment. Four years later, this tragedy occurred. The lesson is that neighbors and family have to make calls into our hotline. When the child was in Los Angeles, we got calls and we responded,” Browning told FNL.

“We believe we can make a difference and keep children safe, but we need the public’s help,” he said.

Browning says DCFS staff morale is helped by transparency and by his ability to speak publicly about these cases.

Ed Winter, a spokesperson for the L.A. Country coroner’s office, told Fox News Latino that he couldn't speak about the case because a security hold by law enforcement has been put on all information regarding the results of Aguilar's autopsy.

Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for FoxNews.com. She can be reached at rebekah.sager@foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.