“The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” Netflix Documentary Series Examines the System’s Failure to protect an innocent child


Genine Chavez, Editor

The  Netflix documentary television series  “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” is about the  murder of an 8-year-old boy in 2013 at the hands of his mother  and her boyfriend. The documentary explains the failure of the Department of Child and Family Services at a time when a small innocent child needed help the most. It’s a compelling series that viewers can’t stop watching. 

The series opens the eyes of many and shows the reality of  a tragedy that outraged the community. A failure that shocked the system. A child rejected by his own mother right from conception until his last breath. His last visuals on this earth were beatings. Gabriel had unconditional love for his mother even with all the torture she gave him on a day-to-day basis. 

The director of the six episode mini-series, Brian Knappenberger, upholds the story with the help from Los Angeles Times journalists, attorneys tied to the case and Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. The film covers the trials for this case which were held for two consecutive years while the court was deciding the sentencing of both defendants. The series makes viewers feel that they too lost a child while in the courtroom.

The mother, Pearl Fernandez, received a life sentence without the possibility of parole, and  her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre. received the death penalty for the murder of Gabriel Fernandez. The social workers and supervisors were also taken to court because they would get the call, but never took charge. Luckily for Gabriel he was able to confide in his teacher Jennifer Garcia, who was one of  the primary concerned adults who would call Child Protective Services every time Gabriel would appear with a bruise or an odd feature at school. 

After I finished watching the series, I was left with a hole in my heart, having to watch every explicit detail that this innocent boy went through. Feeling as if  I was a part of this line of people who wished they could’ve done something.

Gabriel Fernandez’s story shows how many of the numerous ongoing child abuse cases  could potentially lead to death, if not carefully and thoroughly handled. And this speaks to the purpose of the documentary, which is not only to describe the cruel treatments Gabriel suffered at the hands of his supposed-loved ones. It also serves to illuminate the sheer incompetence and indifference displayed by the Department of Child and Family Services, the sheriff’s department,  social workers and family members who thought they did all they could. They were all notified or were aware of Gabriel’s abuse on multiple occasions, but didn’t do justice to save the boy. They had preferred to believe the psychotic mother than a boy who couldn’t speak on his behalf because his punishment would get worse. He didn’t didn’t need to speak. He spoke with his body, the numerous bruises, cigarette burns and lumps that appeared all over. 

The hope that society wants is that the government will take issues of child abuse more seriously than ever, as no child deserves to be treated without love, especially by the person who brought them into this world. 

“Overall it was a heaartbreaking story” said senior Genesis Hernandez. “ I really wish child services would pay more attention.”

Unfortunately, five years after Gabriel’s case in 2018, another boy died under the same circumstances. Ten year old Anthony Avalos was denied access to food and a bathroom, and was abused in the same way as Gabriel was. Calls were made by teachers and relatives, but DCFS never helped the boy who had come out as gay just weeks prior to his death. This all happened in Antelope Valley — where Gabriel Fernandez had died as well.

In the documentary, the mother Pearl Fernandez and boyfriend  Aguirre  knocked out the young boy’s teeth with a bat and every night locked him up in a cupboard. They tied a bandana over his mouth with a sock down his throat, they put handcuffs on the handles of the cupboard so he couldn’t get out and they didn’t let visitors see the abuse in his body, without food but instead forced to eat cat litter. BB gun bullets were found in his lungs and groin. He had missing skin on his neck and skin. At his time of death, he weighed 56 Ibs. 

Gabriels two older siblings Ezequiel and Virginia Fernandez who were the main witnesses of the traumatic beatings. Fortunately, the older siblings were not abused, which created  confusion for the viewers. Why only Gabriel? 

The abuse appears to have first started because Pearl and Aguirre thought Gabriel was gay because he lived with his gay uncles. What added insult to injury was the absolute lack of remorse and concern displayed by his mom and boyfriend at the time of his death.

The documentary truly shows the way the system is failing  its charges and is still not changing. It’s unfortunate to see young children dying way too soon in the hands of the authorites  and not doing justice. 

The Oarsman gives “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” a 5/5