L.A. boy was kept in clos­ets for 3 years be­fore his death

The Star Democrat - - FROM THE WIRE - By HAI­LEY BRAN­SON-POTTS AND RICHARD WIN­TON Los An­ge­les Times

LOS AN­GE­LES (TNS) — For three years, the young boy was hid­den in locked clos­ets, se­dated by liq­uid sleep­ing aids al­legedly given to him by his mother.

When peo­ple asked Veron­ica Aguilar where her son was, she told them he had been placed in an in­sti­tu­tion in Mex­ico, ac­cord­ing to court records. Only her three other chil­dren — two of whom slept on a bed just out­side the closet door — knew the truth, and they said they were for­bid­den by the mother from say­ing any­thing, au­thor­i­ties say.

Yonatan Daniel Aguilar’s tor­tured life came to an end in Au­gust. Po­lice later found the 11-year-old’s bat­tered, mal­nour­ished 34-pound body in the bed­room closet of the fam­ily’s tiny Echo Park home.

The grim de­tails of Yo- natan’s al­leged con­fine­ment are laid out in records the Los An­ge­les Times ob­tained from Los An­ge­les County Ju­ve­nile Court this week. The records help ex­plain how the peo­ple charged with his well-be­ing — school of­fi­cials, po­lice, so­cial work­ers and ther­a­pists — lost track of him de­spite ear­lier al­le­ga­tions of abuse. But they also raise new ques­tions about whether more could have been done to save the boy.

Los An­ge­les po­lice de­tec­tives in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case be­lieved Aguilar’s al­leged ef­forts to hide the boy were so ef­fec­tive that even the boy’s step­fa­ther, Jose Pin­zon, didn’t know Yonatan lived with them all along.

The day of Yonatan’s death, Moses Castillo, the su­per­vis­ing LAPD de­tec­tive on the case, placed Pin­zon and Yonatan’s sib­lings to­gether in a room “to see the re­ac­tion,” DCFS records state. As de­tec­tives and a county so­cial worker stood by, Pin­zon “im­me­di­ately con­fronts the chil­dren that he had no idea that mi­nor (Yonatan) was liv­ing in the house the whole time they were there,” records state.

“How can you do this to me?” he asked.

One of the chil­dren replied: “You were al­ways at work so you didn’t know.”

Pin­zon then started cry­ing.

“I carry a photo of him in my wal­let,” he said, ac­cord­ing to the records. “I’m the only one that cared for him.”

On Aug. 22, Aguilar told Pin­zon that Yonatan had died and asked him to care for her other chil­dren. He as­sumed she would be go­ing to Mex­ico to bury the boy.

In­stead, she led him to the bed­room closet. Ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties, Yonatan’s body was wrapped in a blan­ket and cov­ered in pres­sure sores from ly­ing on the tile floor. There was foam in his nose and medic­i­nal cups of pink and red liq­uid near his body. He was go­ing bald.

“I took care of the prob­lem by ru­in­ing my life,” Aguilar told Pin­zon, ac­cord­ing to the court records. Po­lice say Pin­zon then ran out of the house to a nearby 7-Eleven, where he called au­thor­i­ties.

Aguilar, 39, is fac­ing mur­der charges and has pleaded not guilty. Her at­tor­ney could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment.

The Times pe­ti­tioned the court to re­lease L.A. County De­part­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices case records, as well as po­lice and coroner’s re­ports re­gard­ing Yonatan. Michael Le­vanas, the pre­sid­ing judge of L.A. County’s Ju­ve­nile Court, or­dered the re­lease of more than 160 pages of par­tially redacted records, say­ing they “shed light on what was go­ing on in the fam­ily’s home” and why the boy was left in his mother’s care.

Yonatan’s fam­ily had been the sub­ject of six prior re­ports to DCFS al­leg­ing pos­si­ble abuse or ne­glect, records show. Yonatan’s risk of abuse at home had been marked as “high” four times from 2009 to 2012 by a com­put­er­ized pro­gram in­tended to gauge so­cial work­ers’ level of in­ter­ven­tion. So­cial work­ers, records show, de­clined to open a case, say­ing the al­le­ga­tions of phys­i­cal abuse were in­con­clu­sive or un­founded.

PHOTO BY BAR­BARA DAVID­SON

When po­lice ar­rived at his Echo Park home at 2154 Ynez Street, the body of an 11-year-old boy was ly­ing in a closet, wrapped in a blan­ket. The boy had been dead for at least sev­eral hours, showed signs of phys­i­cal abuse and ap­peared to be mal­nour­ished, of­fi­cials said. Au­thor­i­ties are now try­ing to de­ter­mine the ex­act cir­cum­stances of the boy’s death and also whether of­fi­cials missed warn­ing signs of pos­si­ble abuse in the home.

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