Boy Found Dead In Echo Park Home Had Been Locked In Closet For 3 Years

Yonatan Daniel Aguilar, 11, was discovered dead in his family's Echo Park home on August 22. Reports said that he was malnourished, and that he was discovered wrapped in a blanket.

Now, the L.A. Times has obtained documents from the L.A. County Juvenile Court that reveal more about the atrocious circumstances behind the boy's death. According to the documents, the boy's mother, Veronica Aguilar, had kept Yonatan in a closet for three years. To keep him sedated, she drugged him with sleeping aids.

Apparently, only the mother and her three other sons, the oldest of whom was 18, knew that Yonatan was in the closet. Jose Pinzon, the boy's stepfather, claimed that he wasn't aware about the situation even though he was living inside the house. Pinzon was the one who contacted authorities about Yonatan's body.

The documents reveal a series of lies that Aguilar had woven to keep the abuse secret. She'd told several people, including Pinzon, that Yonatan had been sent to Mexico, with the suggestion that he had been placed in an institution there.

Prior to Yonatan's disappearance from the public, there had been six reports made to the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services about the boy's well-being. Four of those reports were marked as having a "high" risk of abuse. The latest report came in 2012, when two teachers said that Yonatan had a black eye and that he'd taken to hoarding food.

When approached by social workers, Aguilar, it seems, had responded with both concern and indignation. When asked about Yonatan's health, Aguilar claimed that Yonatan had lived with his maternal grandmother in Mexico when he was an infant, and that he may have been underfed there. This, she alleged, could have led to his habit of hoarding food. She also expressed anger over being questioned about Yonatan's black eye (Yonatan claimed he had sustained his injury from falling on rocks).

Aguilar's claims may have worked to some extent. Social workers never opened a case on Yonatan, and Philip L. Browning, director of the DCFS, told KPCC that the social workers had conducted all the proper interviews and followed procedures. Also, school officials reportedly regarded Aguilar as an involved and concerned mother. And Julian Melendez, LAPD's Juvenile Division, told the Times that he doesn't think a full police investigation had ever been launched over Yonatan, and added that any evidence of injury or sexual abuse would have triggered an investigation by detectives.

Yonatan's oldest brother told authorities that they'd recently moved into the Echo Park home, and that Yonatan had been locked in a closet in their previous residence as well.

Aguilar, 39, faces one count each of murder and child abuse resulting in death.

LAist has contacted the DCFS about their policies concerning reports of child abuse, but no one was immediately available for comment. According to the DCFS's webpage, when a report of child abuse is made, the agency first ascertains the severeness of the situation:

All reports which describe situations that fall within statutory definitions of abuse/neglect will receive a response. What the response is and how quickly it will be made, depend on the seriousness of the events reported and the situation the child faces. Where it appears the child is still in danger, the response will be immediate. Not all reports are serious enough to require the assistance of a law enforcement agency. In these cases, the family may be contacted only by the child welfare agency.

The family may then be visited by a social worker or a law enforcement officer. As the agency notes, most reports of child abuse are not serious enough to warrant removal of the child:

Most reports of child abuse do not result in children being removed from their families. The first goal is to enable the child to remain safely in higher own home. If this is not possible, the social worker must remove the child from the home and place him/her in a foster home.