On New Year’s Day in 2021, an alert waitress in Florida took action when she noticed a boy who appeared to be in danger and was sitting at a table with his family.
The boy was covered in bruises and, and his family was refusing to give him food, the waitress told police in an interview last year.
She decided to make a handwritten sign and use it to privately signal to him and ask if he needed help.
Now, more than one year later, the boy’s stepfather has been found guilty of multiple counts of child abuse of his stepson, who prosecutors say was tortured, hung upside down by his neck and feet, deprived of food and water, and forced to do military-style exercises.
On Jan. 1, 2021, Flavaine Carvalho, a restaurant manager who was waitressing at the Mrs. Potato restaurant in Orlando noticed the 11-year-old boy and started to worry, according to a news release from the Orlando Police Department.
Carvalho wrote a note that said “Do you need help?” and held it up behind the boy’s parents so that they couldn’t see, the release said. After three tries to communicate with the boy, he signaled “yes,” and she called the police.
In an interview with the Orlando Police Department in January 2021, Carvalho said she first noticed something was wrong when the adults at the table did not order any food for the boy.
“I stepped in and asked if something was wrong with the order because the food for the boy was missing,” she said in the interview. “The man told me that, no, that everything was okay and the boy was OK and he was going to have his dinner at home.
“This was super strange to me,” she said. “And when I looked to the boy, I saw a big scratch between his eyebrows. And I started observing them, and I could see that he was super quiet and sad.”
Carvalho said in the interview that she first made a sign asking if the boy was OK, and he nodded his head “yes.”
“But he didn’t convince me,” she said . “A couple minutes later, I wrote another sign asking him if he needs help and I show him, and he nodded his head ‘yes.’ I went to the back of the restaurant and called 911.”
The child was taken to the hospital where he told officers about the abuse he had endured, according to the Orlando Police Department interview. Authorities contacted the Department of Children and Families.
Investigators found that the boy, who was the stepson of the man at the table, had been “tortured, maliciously punished, and deprived of food and water for days at a time,” according to a June 6 news release from the Office of State Attorney Monique Worrell.
A jury found the stepfather guilty of two counts of false imprisonment of a child under the age of 13, three counts of aggravated child abuse with a weapon, four counts of aggravated child abuse and one count of child neglect, according to the release.
The stepfather’s attorney, Leslie Sweet, told McClatchy News that he denies the allegations.
“I don’t think that he felt that he did anything wrong,” she said.
The victim’s mother was also charged with two counts of child neglect. McClatchy News is not identifying the stepfather and mother to protect the identity of the 11-year-old child.
A man who answered the phone at the office of the mother’s attorney declined to comment.
“A search warrant revealed that the victim was kept in a separate hotel room used for storage, away from Mr. Wilson, the victim’s mother, and the younger sibling,” the release said. “Duct tape covered the peep hole to the victim’s room, he routinely was deprived of food and beverages, was made to do military-style exercises, hung upside down from a door by his neck and feet, and at one point, handcuffed to a dolly cart on Christmas Day.”
Investigators also found multiple items that had been used as weapons, including a bent metal pole, a wooden broom, handcuffs and ratchet straps that had been used to tie the boy up, the release said.
The stepfather is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 19, according to Worrell’s office.