Eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez made headlines in 2013 after he was found beaten so badly he died from the trauma caused by his mother and her boyfriend. The tragic story is being turned into a six-part documentary series The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, premiering on Netflix by documentary filmmaker Brian Knappenberger. It focuses on the eight months of torture he endured, his death and the arrest of his mother Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre and their subsequent trial.
“I think Gabriel could been saved about a dozen different ways and that’s what’s so intense and so heartbreaking about his story,” Knappenberger, told PEOPLE.
Fernandez was found naked in his family home in Palmdale, a city north of Los Angeles, with a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns, and BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin. He was taken to the hospital where he died from blunt force trauma two days later. As the investigation unfolds, the docu-series reveals the four social workers also accused of child abuse and falsifying records because they were unable to remove him from the home. It’s later shown that the local Department of Children and Family Services was aware of the abuse but did little to aid him. Pearl and Aguirre were arrested and admitted to intentionally torturing him and she later pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Aguirre was charged and convicted of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of intentional murder by torture and sentenced to death in 2018.
The series explores how the Department of Children and Family Services failed to help Fernandez after repeated instances of abuse and neglect. The extent of the torture little Gabriel endured became gruesomely evident. He was forced to consume cat feces and litter, sleep bound and gagged inside a cabinet, and beaten with a club, bat, belt buckle, and metal hanger. The newly released trailer shows images of the bat and cabinet along with the paperwork the DCFS had on file detailing the abuse and the lack of action on their part. The series also shines a light on the allegations that Aguirre ultimately killed the boy because he believed he was gay. The Los Angeles Times reported that they allegedly forced him to wear girls’ clothing to school and punished him for playing with dolls, according to testimony from his siblings.
“What we do know is that he called him gay when he was beating him,” Knappenberger told PEOPLE. “And it’s one of the first things he told the first responders when they entered the house and were trying to save Gabriel’s life. So take from that which will, but it certainly played a role.”
Fernandez was shuffled between relatives for much of his life and reportedly was the happiest living with his uncle, but his mother allegedly wanted him back for the welfare money, PEOPLE reports. During the trial, a family member questioned how everyone else could love Gabriel but his own mother. His first-grade teacher — who had previously contacted authorities — said there was no doubt that Aguirre and Pearl were the reason he was dead. “You want to say that the conduct was animalistic, but that would be wrong because even animals know how to take care of their young … It’s beyond animalistic,” the judge said. The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is available for streaming Feb. 26.