When 18-month-old Fernando Luis Barahona was airlifted to a St. Petersburg children’s hospital, he had sustained two skull fractures, his head was “swollen and misshapen” and he had both new and old bruises on his forehead, spine and eyebrow — as well as scratches and a “hand print.”
His mother, Elvia Enid Fernandez, blamed the trauma on the family dog.
Fernandez’s boyfriend was the only adult at home when Fernando was injured, and he had an unsettling history of child abuse allegations. Child welfare workers insisted the boyfriend leave Fernandez’s home. And they wanted him to take the deadly dog with him.
Fernandez got rid of the canine, but kept her boyfriend. Less than three weeks later, Fernando was dead. And there was no dog left to blame.
Fernando, who lived in Lee County in Southwest Florida, is among several children who perished during a grim summer of violence and neglect.
The Miami Herald has previously reported on the toddler’s death, but details of his case remained hidden while the Department of Children & Families investigated his June 3 killing.
On Friday, DCF released scores of pages of new records, including an agency internal review of the events leading to his death.
DCF’s interim secretary, Esther Jacobo, said Friday that the agency will look deeper into Fernando’s case as part of a comprehensive review of child deaths this year — and the role played by state child welfare workers.
“We are saddened at the death of 1-year-old Fernando Barahona,” said Jacobo, who oversaw DCF’s Miami region until being appointed interim secretary.
“In this case, as in many other cases, DCF worked closely with law enforcement to make decisions about dangerous living conditions, but we can never forget, as a department, that we have a different role than law enforcement and that we must rely on our own investigation and analysis.”
She added: “I am encouraged that we are openly discussing these tragedies and hopeful that together with our community we can improve our practice.”
No charges have been filed yet in Fernando’s death.
State child abuse investigators first became aware of Fernando Barahona on May 17, when he arrived at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg by helicopter.
He had suffered fractures to both the back and side of his skull. He also had older “purplish” bruises on his lower back, DCF’s abuse hotline was told.
Fernandez told doctors and nurses that her toddler was injured after the dog knocked him over onto a tile floor. But the medical authorities weren’t buying it.
A nurse practitioner in the hospital’s neurosurgery department said the gravity of Fernando’s injuries seemed inconsistent with a “fall from only standing on the ground.”
The nurse “did not think the injury matches with the story.”
The state’s Child Protection Team arrived at the same conclusion, writing: “Injury does not seem consistent with” the family’s story.
But Fernandez, an investigator wrote, “stated she is willing to be protective of all of her children and ensure nothing happens to them in the future.” She signed a “safety plan” promising to keep boyfriend Ron Midkiff out.