Leticia Fernandez will always be in my memory, because of who she was, and how much fun we had during Jr. High. Sitting in front of her during Math in seventh grade was a good ‘ol time. She rarely did her homework, so she would whisper to me in Mr. Mountner’s Math class in seventh grade, to get last minute answers before she had to turn in her homework.
John A. Sutter Jr. High has been known for its excellent math and english proficiency class in the Southern California area, and our teacher, Mr. Mountner, was one of the school’s most challenging math teachers. Leticia would whisper her questions and I would write little scribbles on a note during pop quizzes.
Although Mr. Mounter knew we were cheating, he told me after class, “I think you’re helping a good kid, and she’s had a lot of troubles in life. So let’s keep this between ourselves.” Leticia and I were only 12 years old and she was one of the popular kids in the school, while I was the geeky type. But, everyone liked me because Leticia told her friends that I was her help in class.
It turns out, Leticia and her siblings came from a single parent household, and Leticia never had a “good” friend. Her mother was a drug addict and Leticia was often abandoned by her own family. She had no time to study, because she never had the motivation to do so, and she believed she was born to fail.
Leticia Fernandez died by the time I reached eighth grade at John A. Sutter Jr. High, and the last time I saw her was in Mr. Mountner’s class right before Spring Break. She died from a gun shot through her forehead by her own mother, who also murdered Leticia’s older sister and younger brother. The local newspaper printed the tragedy and there was a note from Leticia’s mother about how tragic her life was and she couldn’t get on with life alone without support.
I remembered standing next to the principal, Dr. Kelly, while the school flag was raised half way during our Jr. High School’s memorial ceremony. The little house the Fernandez lived in can still be seen today in Reseda, abandoned and rumored to be haunted by the whole family.
No one referred the Fernandez family to any resources during the whole time they were in the cycle of abuse. Everyone seemed to be so afraid of them. They were labelled “poor trash,” and the only person who would often come by to her house that resembled a shack in Reseda, California, were drug dealers. I wished I was more knowledgeable about children’s centers, because I would have referred Leticia to an after school program for abused children.
I was twelve and had no knowledge of what services are out there. However, years later and with more compassion as well as information, I can now write about this experience and refer children and families in Denver, like the Fernandez families, to local resources like the Denver Children’s Advocacy Center.
Denver Children’s Advocacy Center (DCAC), is located on 2149 Federal Boulevard in Denver. DCAC is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “prevent abuse, strengthen families, and restore childhood” for children in Denver County. DCAC is a bilingual and bicultural services in English and Spanish, for all of its prevention and treatment programs. DCAC works with at-risk children up to the age of 17 years old, much like those whose circumstances resembles Leticia’s, to prevent continuous trauma and to treat various types of complex cases.
According to their most recent 2009 data, DCAC has served a total of 1,127 children and 452 of their parents. The center has provided 2,292 therapy sessions for children and families and has facilitated 3,921 victim advocacy interviews and case management interventions for Denver families and kids.
DCAC also provides education programs for children to teach them the various signs of abuse and neglect. The center professionals are trained to detect behavioral signs of abuse, such as: delinquency, self mutilation, frequent drawings of sexual acts or contents and persistent sex plays with friends, toys, or pets.
Leticia Fernandez is a worst-case scenario, and I pray not a soul will ever go through the same incident. With outlets like Denver Children’s Advocay Center, there are now a plethora of people who care. These DCAC staff are professionally trained to help children and families struggling through abuse.
In hope that Denver will be a safer place for children, I encourage all those who know of cases of child abuse to refer a professional to their aid. Better yet, now there is a place for the referral.
Denver Children’s Advocacy Center.
2149 Federal Blvd. Denver, CO 80211
P: (303) 825-3850 / F: (303) 825-6087.
Toll Free: 1(800) 644-3850.