City News Service

Suspect Booked in Death of 10-Year-Old Lancaster Boy

Kareem Leiva was booked at the LA County Sheriff's Lancaster station after his release from the hospital Thursday.

A man was booked today on suspicion of murdering his girlfriend's 10-year-old son, who had been the subject of numerous abuse reports.

The suspect, 32-year-old Kareem Leiva, was arrested on Wednesday afternoon, but had been taken to a hospital for treatment of what authorities believe was a self-inflicted laceration to his upper chest.

After being medically cleared, Leiva was booked about 1:30 p.m. at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lancaster Station and was being held in lieu of $2 million bail, according to online inmate records.

The boy, Anthony Avalos, died at a hospital last Thursday morning. Deputies and paramedics had responded to a 911 call from his mother about 12:15 p.m. the previous day and found the boy unresponsive inside his family's apartment. Authorities said they were told the child had suffered injuries from a fall, but investigators quickly classified the death as "suspicious."

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.

"You had teachers, you had family members, you had law enforcement come in contact. And yet, Anthony's at the morgue; we're awaiting autopsy results," Barger said Wednesday. "One has to wonder what it's going to take to get the attention of not only the social workers, but the public in general, because I'm told that neighbors also were aware of what was taking place."

"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.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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