law enforcement

Mother Charged With Murder, Torture After Lancaster Boy Dies

The mother's boyfriend was officially booked into jail the day before.

A week after a 10-year-old Lancaster boy died following what family called a suspicious fall, the boy's mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder and torture Friday, authorities said. 

Heather Barron was arrested on suspicion of murder and torture Friday, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said. The arrest came a day after 32-year-old Kareem Leiva was booked into jail. Leiva, was arrested on Wednesday, but had been taken to a hospital after suffering self-inflicted cuts to his throat. 

Barron was being held on $2 million bail, as was Leiva, according to inmate records. 

Family of Anthony Avalos wore shirts bearing his likeness, as if the boy were floating in heaven, outside the Los Angeles County Superior Court Antelope Valley Branch. 

"We want to keep the focus on Anthony," David Barron, brother of the boy's mother, said.

Barron was facing an additional charge of child abuse, while Leiva was facing another count of assault on a child resulting in death. Barron appeared in court Friday afternoon to be arraigned, but it was postponed until Monday, when she and Leiva would make their pleas. In her first court appearance, she shook her head and appeared to be on the verge of tears. 

If convicted, Barron faces 22 years to life in prison. Leiva faces 32 years to life in prison. The judge issued a protective order for Barron's other children.

Avalos died Thursday morning after paramedics responded to his family's apartment. He had reportedly suffered a fall, and when paramedics arrived, he was unresponsive. He died the next day in the hospital. After he died, authorities were calling the incident and his death suspicious. 

Prosecutors allege that Avalos was tortured by his mother and her boyfriend in the days leading up to his death. 

Anthony's death led the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to call for a comprehensive review of why the Lancaster boy wasn't removed from his family home despite multiple reports of abuse to the Department of Children and Family Services. Eight children who either lived at the home or were associated with the family were removed and placed into DCFS custody, according to Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

Leiva lived at the home on and off, sheriff's Capt. Christopher Bergner said.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisor Kathryn Barger calling for a thorough review of why Anthony wasn't removed from his family home, despite a dozen reports to the Department of Children and Family Services between 2013-16, including a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse by a grandparent when the boy was 4 years old.

"As all agencies work tirelessly to get to the bottom of what happened, each day brings to light new updates and information about Anthony's senseless death," according to a statement released by DCFS Director Bobby Cagle. "While we cannot comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, we are committed to cooperating with our law enforcement partners. I reiterate my deep commitment to seeing justice done on behalf of this innocent child. Our hearts go out to those that have been so deeply affected by this tragedy."

Barger and other county officials repeatedly said that they would wait for all the facts to come in before drawing conclusions about exactly what happened to the boy. However, Barger called it a "senseless murder," explaining that "we don't have a conclusion, but there's no other explanation."

Barger noted that an 8-year-old Palmdale boy was beaten to death in 2013 by his mother's boyfriend, despite multiple calls to DCFS over a period of years. The boyfriend, who was reported to hate Gabriel because he thought he was gay, has been sentenced to death for the crime and Gabriel's mother was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Four DCFS officials are awaiting trial on criminal charges stemming from Gabriel's death.

Another potential parallel was a concern that homophobia may have contributed to both boys' abuse.

Although a possible motive in Anthony's case remains under investigation, Cagle told City News Service that he was told Anthony said "he liked boys and girls" and that the context of the boy's comment was not entirely clear. Bergner said at the news conference that homophobia "has not come up in our investigation as a motivation at this time," he said.

A previous statement released by Cagle laying out details of the case said Anthony had been severely beaten and was malnourished when paramedics arrived last Wednesday in response to his mother's 911 call.

The first call to DCFS was in February 2013 alleging sexual abuse of then-4-year-old Anthony by a grandparent not living in the home. The allegation was substantiated, and the boy was given a medical exam and referred for services. Following a second call in March 2013, repeating the same allegation, the case was closed when social workers determined that the mother was "appropriately safe," according to Cagle's statement.

The remaining 10 reports involved allegations of sexual, emotional and physical abuse, as well as general neglect, Cagle said. Some were substantiated, while others were unfounded.

"In private interviews, Anthony disclosed details consistent with media reports that he was beaten, locked up, and not fed," according to the statement.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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