When police found 10-year-old Yonatan locked inside a closet, he was so underweight and frail detectives thought he was only around five years old.
A Los Angeles courtroom was this week subjected to the horrifying case involving a mother-of-four starving and locking her young son with special needs away in a closet.
Veronica Aguilar has been accused of neglect and ultimately causing the 10-year-old’s death.
The mother had reportedly kept Yonatan hidden in the closet for the past three years, telling his siblings and step-father the boy had been sent to Mexico for treatment.
The court heard how the boy’s name growing up had been “Chubby”, but when police found him he weighed just over 15kg.
The average healthy weight for a 10-year-old boy is 32kg.
"I saw a very gaunt, frail-looking child, who at that time to me looked like a five, six or seven-year-old boy," Los Angeles Police Department Detective Abel Munoz told the court.
Investigators expressed bewilderment over how the accused was able to keep the boy hidden inside a closet of the family’s tiny one-bedroom house for so long.
Yonatan’s stepfather, Jose Pinzon, testified through interpreters that Ms Aguilar had told him she had sent the boy back to Mexico where he would get better treatment, and that because she was undocumented in the United States she had felt helpless.
"She would cry a lot because she would say she didn't know what to do," Mr Pinzon said through translators.
The boy’s step-father further added that despite consultations with psychologists, Yonatan had been having behavioural problems at school.
Mr Pinzon said in the three years since the boy was confined to the closet, he had never seen any sign that the child was in the house. He explained that he worked 18 hours a day and when he was home he slept on the floor away from his wife and children.
When Ms Aguilar told him she had not sent the boy to Mexico, and that he was dead in their own house, Mr Pinzon had been baffled and distraught.
Local news station ABC 7 News reported there was evidence that the boy’s mother had been feeding the child alcohol-based cold medicine to make him sleepy.
The preliminary hearing continues.
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