Investigators believe a 10-year-old California boy told his family members he identified as gay or bisexual before he was beaten to death last week.
Anthony Avalos, who one relative said had been abused for years, was found unresponsive at his home in Lancaster in northern Los Angeles County on June 20. The boy was covered in cigarette burns and had sustained head injuries that his mother, Heather Barron, claimed came from an accidental fall. He died in an area hospital the next day, the Los Angeles Times reported.
No official cause of Anthony’s death has been released. However, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services disclosed that the boy had come out as gay or bisexual in recent weeks, and is investigating whether homophobia may have played a role in his death.
Brandon Nichols, the department’s deputy director, told CBSLA-TV that Anthony recently announced to Barron that he “liked boys and girls,” but did not elaborate further.
Barron and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, appeared on Tuesday at a closed juvenile court hearing that will determine the status of their remaining six children, all of whom have been removed from the Lancaster home. Neither of the adults has been charged in Anthony’s death, though a police investigation is continuing.
Anthony’s aunt told CBSLA she believes Barron and Leiva had been abusing her nephew. She said she first began alerting the family services department about the abuse claims in 2015, but that nothing was done.
“He told us that he would get locked up and he wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom,” Maria Barron said, adding that Anthony and his siblings told her they had been abused and forced to eat trash. “I was heartbroken that I didn’t do more for him.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that Heather Barron and Leiva were the subject of at least 16 calls made to the family services department since 2013. According to Nichols, at least 13 of those calls specifically mentioned Anthony as an alleged victim.
For Anthony to have possibly come out amid such volatile circumstances “reinforces how brave,” he was, Maria Barron said.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.