GASPING in shock, Emily Carranza struggled to keep her composure as photo after photo of her eight-year-old cousin’s sickening injuries were shown to the courtroom.
Each one gave a glimpse at the “unspeakable” child abuse Gabriel Fernandez was subjected to at the hands of his own mother and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre, in an eight-month reign of terror.
Gabriel was repeatedly beaten and tortured by the sick pair before being rushed to hospital in 2013 – where he died two days later.
His injuries left medical staff traumatised, as they found evidence of BB gunshot wounds to his genitals, burns over his body, cat litter in his stomach and his skull left with the consistency of Rice Krispies.
But while Netflix viewers have now been shown some of the horrendous photos of his injuries in new documentary series The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, Emily has revealed they were far from the worst she saw first-hand during the trial.
Speaking to the Sun Online, the 47-year-old mum from California, US, says they got so bad that she almost had to leave the room – and recalls the moment she locked eyes with Gabriel’s mother Pearl, but saw “only darkness” there.
While Pearl Fernandez was sentenced to life in prison – and Aguirre to death – over their vile crimes, Emily says it will never be enough to erase the hell her family have gone through.
‘Those pictures will forever be embedded in my mind’
Defenceless Gabriel was rushed to hospital with extensive injuries in May 2013 but tragically passed away two days later after being declared brain dead.
He had a major skull fracture, bruising and cuts all over his face, black eyes, BB gun wounds, ligature marks on his ankles, cigarette burns and cat litter in his stomach – after being forced to eat it.
Several graphic photos, taken in hospital, were shown to viewers in the documentary, but Emily says they were just a snippet of what was shown to the jury in the trial.
“Those pictures will forever be embedded in my mind, it was so hard to see the ones that they did put in the documentary because they were nothing compared to what we actually saw in the trial,” she says.
“I was beside myself. I think at one time when they started showing the photos I remember gasping, I wanted to get up. My husband was luckily with me and just told me to relax and look down. It was really devastating.”
‘There was nothing behind those eyes’
Emily – whose father was brother to Pearl’s grandfather – didn’t grow up with Gabriel and his immediate family, but spent a lot of time with him when he was a young child, and still in the care of his loving grandparents Sandra and Robert.
She met Pearl a handful of times during that period, and says she had always seemed pleasant enough when they chatted.
However, there’s one moment when Emily says she caught Pearl’s eye during the trial – and it will stay with her forever.
“During one of the impact statement readings, I did make eye contact with her and she did with me. It’s just darkness in her,” she recalls.
Whatever life she might have started off with was just ripped out of her soul. There was nothing behind those eyes. No remorse, nothing.
“Whatever life she might have started off with was just ripped out of her soul. There was nothing behind those eyes. No remorse, nothing.
“There was no reaction. When we [the family] did the impact statement, not even Isauro had a reaction. He just kept looking down… I have no words for them.”
The documentary also references claims that Pearl previously made, alleging she was the victim of gang rape when she was younger.
But while Emily says she can’t comment on that specifically, she adds: “What type of neglect and hate did you receive and was instilled on you to cause physical harm against your own child that you carried for nine months and birthed?”
‘He was a quiet, good boy’
Gabriel was brought up by his uncle Michael Lemos Carranza and his partner, David Martinez, before moving in with his grandparents in 2009.
It’s around that time that Emily grew closer to the family, and she recalls him being a playful and loving child – far from the bruised and terrified boy he became while living with Pearl in his final eight months of life.
“I remember Gabriel was a very quiet boy, he liked to play and jump around with his siblings and cousins. There were always kids around,” she says.
“His uncle Michael always involved him in planning his birthday parties, that was their thing together.
“He was a good kid.
“He was very happy then. He was in the care of his grandparents, they gave him a lot of love and affection.
“I witnessed him hugging both of them, and them hugging him back, there was love there.
He did know love and affection. It was just the last eight months of his life with Pearl and Isauro that he did not feel that anymore.”
‘We were clueless until I saw Gabriel’s name on the news’
Sadly, due to her slowly losing contact with Gabriel’s grandparents in later years, Emily had no idea Pearl had taken the young boy into her home.
In fact, the first she heard of Gabriel being rushed to hospital was when she saw his name on the news.
“I saw the cops actually putting Pearl into the cop car. Her name flashed across the screen and I got on the phone straight away,” she says.
“We were clueless, we had no idea he was going through any of this.
“When I saw Gabriel’s name… we were just in complete shock. My mum was able to speak to his grandmother Sandra and she told us he was on life support at a children’s hospital.
“But two days later they made the decision to disconnect him because he wasn’t going to come back.”
‘He wanted to be saved and nobody was helping him’
One of the most shocking parts of the Netflix documentary is seeing evidence of just how many times Gabriel pleaded for help.
Not only did he ask his teacher if it’s “normal” to bleed after being hit by a belt, he also turned up to school with obvious facial injuries, showed a guard his bruised arm and left his family members so concerned that they called social services themselves.
But despite his teacher’s repeated calls, the guard’s report and those of his family members, social services did not deem the risk high enough to remove him from his mother’s care.
“No matter how many times he cried out for help everybody was blinded, nobody was able to see through and help him,” Emily says. “The way he died, it’s just unspeakable.”
She adds: “He wanted to live. He wanted to be saved and nobody was helping him or listening to him.”
‘Gabriel’s face will haunt them for the rest of their lives’
Emily is now calling for a major overhaul of America’s social services system.
While the documentary details how social workers visited the family multiple times, no action was taken to rescue him.
“Everybody dropped the ball, everybody overlooked him,” Emily says.
In what has been described by US media as an unprecedented move, the four social workers involved in the case were eventually charged with criminal negligence.
The charges were later dropped because prosecutors did not prove the social workers “had the requisite duty to control the abusers,” and concluded they “did not have care or custody of Gabriel”.
All four of them have now reportedly been fired by the LA County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
“Why is the DCFS in place if you’re not there to protect the children, but to help the parents and get them resources?” Emily says.
“Yet you’re going to leave a child who’s crying out for help to live in a home where he’s constantly being abused.”
“They’ll make excuses so they don’t feel the blame, but like I tell everybody, at night I know I can sleep peacefully, but they can’t. Gabriel’s face will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
Social worker Stefanie Rodriguez and other representatives of child protection agencies visited Gabriel’s home on a number of occasions.
They claimed to have never found strong enough signs of abuse in order to remove Gabriel from the house.
Later investigations revealed Rodriguez had never received information detailing previous allegations that Pearl Rodriguez had neglected her other children.
Emily, with the help of some friends, has now set up a Facebook page, Gabriel’s Justice, dedicated to raising awareness of the case and pushing for changes to the wider social services system in the US.
It’s gained more than 100,000 followers, but while it’s proved a major success, Emily says, ultimately, nothing will ever bring her cousin back.
“All I know is he’s in a better place, nobody can ever hurt him again. That gives me comfort, knowing he can never be hurt again,” she says.
“But I only wish that the circumstances were different and that he was saved. I wish he was still with family rather than being taken from us.”
View more information: https://www.the-sun.com/news/493301/harrowing-pics-of-my-cousin-gabriel-fernandezs-bruised-battered-body-left-me-sick-netflix-doesnt-show-the-worst/