Left: Gabriel Fernandez, murdered at 8. Right: Jeremiah Oliver, murdered at 5.
I recently viewed the powerful documentary series on Netflix “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” about a boy’s brutal murder and the failures of all involved who could have prevented this 8-year-old’s death. It’s a moving, but disturbing account of what’s wrong with the system, but not what the series would lead you to believe – social workers dropping the ball; not seeing the clues; and poor or no communication. The problem is there are too many dysfunctional mothers and fathers who are not qualified to be parents, parenting the most innocent facet of our society: children. And then killing them.
A child’s innocence should be the most important thing we as parents and family members should protect. It should be our responsibility to ensure that what is needed is provided and that their ideas and fantasies of pink ponies and super heroes are maintained as long as possible. But we do not value this as a part of our responsibility. Instead, we turn the other cheek hoping that someone else will pick up the reigns and do their job.
There’s no argument that Gabriel Fernandez’s death could have been prevented. Every person who had access to this child could have saved him from being bludgeoned to a pulp. A 270-pound man beat a 57-pound child to death and his mother and siblings watched.
I won’t ruin the series –which is recommended for all to watch – but the last deadly blow wasn’t the heartbreaking moment of Gabriel’s life. It was the years of tearing away at a young boy who wanted to be loved, but instead was beaten, burnt, tortured, and poisoned.
He didn’t have to die but everyone watched as he did.
But I digress.
Closer to home – the outlook is as grave.
I remember many years ago working in news, the story of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, who went missing in 2013 and was later found wrapped in a suitcase on the side of a Massachusetts highway in the Spring of 2014 - murdered.
The natives were restless and demanded answers as to how this boy could fall through the preverbal cracks of a hack agency. Olga Roche, then DCF Commissioner, tried to calm the masses by claiming there were no more “Jeremiah’s” in the system and that all children under the supervision of DCF were accounted for.
Fast forward and Roche was out of a job. However, the failures and tragedies within the department that were laid at Roche’s feet were not her doing. The “doings” were and continue to be that of incompetent and abusive parents and guardians of children who exercise the right to procreate but have no clue as to how to raise and care for their children.
Jeremiah’s mother, 28-year-old Elsa Oliver, was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment of a child and two counts of accessory after the fact for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Alberto Sierra, Oliver’s boyfriend, was charged with two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon — a knife — and two counts of assault and battery on a child causing bodily injury.
Elsa Oliver has two older children who remain in the custody of the DCF system. But by the grace of God and despite Oliver’s psychopathic and abusive behavior, managed to survive the utter senselessness of this broken woman. In this and each tragic case of this kind, the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of whichever commissioner was at the helm at the time, regardless of who actually committed the crime.
Exit stage right and Olga Roche departed with the blood of three children on her record: 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver and two babies who died under suspicious circumstances in their homes – after her claim of all children being safe and accounted for. In one case, Grafton police faxed a 51A (report of suspected child abuse) to DCF but did not follow up with a phone call. Someone at DCF had to have read the fax, and did nothing.
It is now 2020, and a recent Boston Globe report details the death rates of children in the DCF system declining under its new commissioner, Linda Spears. In the report, Spears applauds the death rates down from previous years, but would not provide the details of the 34 fatalities that have occurred – fatalities that include a 4-week old Haverhill boy; a three-month old Methuen boy; and a 15-month old Lawrence girl.
DCF’s response? “A death of a child is a tragedy and DCF thoroughly investigates each and every case to better understand any risk factors that may have led to a child’s death.”
So – is it cheaper to investigate a death than it is to provide protection for a life? What if that thoroughness occurred BEFORE the danger of the child was eminent? What if we don’t applaud that death rates are down to just 34 last year, but demand better accountability and resources so that these social workers CAN do their job?
The problem is not the system, resources, bureaucracy or otherwise. The real problem is egregiously malicious and negligent people have the right to have children.
Harsh, but true.
Forced sterilization. If people incapable of NOT harming their children can’t HAVE children, then people like Linda Spears can retire knowing that every child under her care WAS accounted for, because there would have been no abused or neglected children to account for.