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