Why Did No One Save Gabriel?
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At the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, administrators had a well-worn routine they followed anytime a child died, or came close to dying, at the hands of a parent or guardian—something that typically happened at least a couple of times a month.
As soon as a call came in from a hospital, caseworkers would be dispatched to interview any surviving siblings and remove them from the home. Then administrators would go to work producing a confidential report and a set of reforms—measures that would allow them to claim they had taken steps to ensure that such a tragedy would never happen again. Until, of course, another one did.
On May 23, 2013, this grim assembly line paused at Greg Merritt’s cubicle in the Palmdale branch office. Merritt, who is 62, had worked in the department for more than two decades. He’d met his wife, Bonnie, there, and was considered one of the agency’s best supervisors. Some of Merritt’s colleagues were so ashamed of the department’s reputation that they avoided telling people what they did for a living. But Merritt was proud of his work, especially his efforts to keep together families that might otherwise be separated. He was a devout Christian, and to him this wasn’t just a job. It was a calling.
When Barbara Dallis, one of the department’s assistant regional administrators, showed up at Merritt’s desk that morning asking for the Gabriel Fernandez case file, he didn’t immediately understand that something terrible had happened. But as they rummaged through a pile of recently closed cases, Dallis explained that Gabriel, who was 8, had been severely abused and might die.
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