A Southern California boy, 4, who died under suspicious circumstances had begged his great-grandmother not to be reunited with his birth parents.
The boy, identified as Noah Cuatro, was in his birth parents’ care when he died on July 6. His mother and father, Jose and Ursula, took him to the hospital and said he had drowned in a pool at their Palmdale apartment complex. Investigators, however, say that medical staff found signs of trauma on the boy’s body that was not consistent with drowning.
The child’s great-grandmother, Eva Hernandez, told KTLA that the toddler was removed from his mother’s care at birth. For the first three months, Noah was in and out of foster care before Hernandez received custody of the child, she said.
Six months later, a court decided that Noah should be returned to his parents, but the boy was again removed from their care about a year after that due to neglect and malnutrition. Noah was again placed in foster care until eventually, he returned to Hernandez.
Noah lived stably with her for more than two years. During that time, she would facilitate visits by Ursula but became increasingly worried about her granddaughter’s ability to care for the boy.
Last November, Noah was again returned to his parents.
“‘Grandma,'” Hernandez recalled the child telling her. “‘You can’t let me go. You can’t let me go.’ He’s looking at me, begging me not to let him go, and I had to let him go.”
Hernandez saw the little boy for the last time about three months ago. She says he was sad and withdrawn. He didn’t look the same little boy anymore.
“He didn’t have the chance. She was just looking at him, and he wouldn’t say anything,” Hernandez said of the mother. “He would say, ‘Grandma,’ then he would just shut down. I kept saying, ‘What’s wrong? Tell me baby,’ and he wouldn’t say it.”
At the time of Noah’s death, officials had received at least 13 calls about suspected children abuse at the Cuatros’s home, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In a statement released, DCFS director Bobby Cagle, the department would not be able to provide any information on Noah’s case due to privacy restrictions. He offered the agencies condolences:
“We join with the community in expressing our deep sadness over the tragic death of this child.”
The boy’s parents have been questioned, but neither of them had been arrested.
His siblings were removed from the home and placed into protective custody. Hernandez says she blames the county’s Department of Children and Family Services for failing to protect Noah.
“They could’ve helped him, they could’ve done something, anything to get him out of there,” Hernandez says.