Teacher shares letter allegedly abused boy wrote before he died: 'I want to stay with you forever'

"I assumed he'd have a summer of fun, and that I'd see him in the fifth grade," Anthony Avalos' fourth-grade teacher testified.

ByColleen Sullivan and Lisa Bartley KABC logo
Thursday, February 9, 2023
Anthony Avalos' teacher testifies, shares boy's heartfelt letter
In emotional testimony, Anthony Avalos' teacher described the boy as "everyone's best friend." She noted that he wrote a letter to her in which he wrote, "I just want to stay with you forever, but I can't."

LOS ANGELES -- Anthony Avalos would be in ninth grade if he were still alive today. Instead, his mother and her ex-boyfriend are standing trial, accused in the torture and murder of the 10-year-old Lancaster, California boy in June 2018.

Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva have both pleaded not guilty to all charges.

On Wednesday, Anthony's fourth grade teacher took the witness stand to describe the little boy she called "everyone's best friend." Harmony Bell broke down in tears throughout her testimony, recalling him as "bubbling, always happy and a joy to be around."

"On the last day of school Anthony, you know, he was excited," Bell told Eyewitness News outside court. "And the last day, he knew we were going to be together again in fifth grade - and he would always draw me pictures and write me letters."

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Bell never imagined that Anthony would not return to El Dorado Elementary for his fifth-grade year.

"I assumed he'd have a summer of fun, and that I'd see him in the fifth grade," Bell testified.

Bell says she and Anthony had a special bond. He'd bring her graham crackers from the cafeteria and confided in her about his love for the Bible.

"He keeps a smile on my face all day long," Bell wrote in one of his report cards during his final year of school. "I couldn't imagine my class without him!"

On the witness stand, Bell read aloud from the last letter she received from Anthony, just two weeks before his death in June of 2018.

"I just want to stay with you forever, but I can't," Bell read aloud from Anthony's handwritten letter. "I just hope you have a good rest of your life, because you already know that I'm going to have a good life."

Bell testified that she never saw any signs of child abuse with Anthony during their year in the classroom together. Outside court, Anthony's aunt Maria Barron embraced Bell and thanked her for making Anthony's last school year full of fun and love - at least in the classroom.

Also on the witness stand Wednesday was a friend and classmate of Anthony's - a now 14-year-old girl identified only by her first name -- Sofia. Sofia described Anthony as "always hungry," and that he'd ask classmates if they had extra food at lunchtime.

"If they were passing out snacks in class, he'd ask for extras," she testified. "One thing I did notice was that he saved enough for not only him but also for his siblings, too."

She also told the court that Anthony told her he wasn't allowed to play with toys at home - and that he often wore sweaters, even if the weather was very hot. The only injuries she saw appeared to be normal injuries he might have gotten from soccer.

"He had what I can remember - scratches, redness and like little bruises," she testified.

Prosecutors also played two calls made to a DCFS hotline to report suspected child abuse for Anthony and his siblings.

In September 2015, Gia Greaux, then-vice principal of Lincoln Elementary School, called DCFS after speaking with Anthony. Greaux testified that Anthony told her his mother hit him with a ping-pong paddle, locked up the kids for hours in their rooms and forced them to do what they called the "Captain's Chair," where the kids had to sit against a wall with their knees bent and arms stretched out for long periods of time.

Another call to the DCFS hotline was placed by Mildred Blue in April of 2016. Blue was working at a daycare and noticed a bruise on the faces of two of Anthony's stepsiblings. Blue testified that the kids told her that their mother withheld food from them and that Leiva "made them fight each other."

A week or two after Blue made that call to DCFS she says she received a letter stating that the case was being closed with no action taken.