FRESNO, CA -- There are disturbing new claims of abuse in Kettleman City. A 7-year-old boy was locked in his bedroom for months, according to Kings County sheriff's deputies.
His mother was an apparent victim herself as she tried to defend her son.
"When the deputies finally told him he could come out of the room he actually asked the deputies if he could hug them," said Kings County Assistant Sheriff Dave Putnam. "He was so relieved to come out of this room."
The woman told Action News she tried to escape her abuser several times. But he threatened to kill her and her son if she left. Deputies say the boy was beaten and locked in his room and only allowed outside for school.
Juan Gutierrez, 26, was arrested at his home in Kettleman City, the place he's accused of locking up his girlfriend's 7-year-old son for the past year.
The boy's mother said she tried to escape once with her son and two daughters. But Gutierrez caught her, put a gun in her mouth, and said he'd kill the boy if they tried to leave again. Action News is choosing to protect her identity.
She said Gutierrez, her boyfriend of three years, would kick her son if he didn't eat his food. And anytime she stepped in to protect him, she was beaten. She says the death threats continued, along with the physical abuse.
Kings County sheriff's deputies say help finally arrived on Sunday when the boy's grandparents showed up for a visit. "The mother of the boy was acting very nervous and was hesitant to let the grandparents and aunt to see the little boy," Putnam said. "So of course that raised their suspicions."
Gutierrez admitted to locking up the boy for four months as punishment for fighting with his older and younger sisters, Putnam said.
Investigators say the boy was given a bucket to urinate in that room. When deputies found him, he appeared malnourished.
Even though the boy was allowed to go to school, the abuse wasn't detected. "I believe that he was so afraid of his abuser that he didn't talk about it at school," Putnam said. "He was very happy to be at school. That was his only outlet in life, his only release."
His mother is grateful, she says, to be free from her abuser. But now she must work to regain custody of her children.
Deputies say the two girls were never abused. The kids are not Gutierrez's biological children. They are in protective custody right now. Gutierrez is being held on $600,000 bail.
California man accused of abusing boy, keeping him locked in room for months
When the deputies told the boy he could leave his room now, he asked the deputy, "Can I give you a hug?" He then hugged the deputy.