‘You saved someone’s life’: Nikki Fried honors Orlando server who reported boy’s abuse

Hannah Phillips, Orlando Sentinel
·3 min read

With a handwritten note and a call to police, investigators say Flaviane Carvalho saved an 11-year-old boy and his sister from life-threatening abuse.

The manager and server at Mrs. Potato Restaurant was recognized by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried Thursday afternoon for calling police when the boy signaled that he needed help.

“You are unbelievable,” Fried told Carvalho outside the restaurant Thursday afternoon. “You saved someone’s life.”

Carvalho said she thought the boy must have been in trouble with his parents when she saw them enter the restaurant Jan. 1. He sat at the far corner of the table, away from his parents and sister, and didn’t speak. When it came time to order, he didn’t do that, either.

“Minute after minute, I was feeling something stronger and stronger that pushed me to pay attention to the boy,” Carvalho said.

It was God, she said. She saw the bruises next, and the quarter-sized scab between the boy’s eyebrows. Carvalho used handwritten signs to communicate with him just out of his parents’ line of site.

“DO YOU NEED HELP?” she wrote.

He nodded, and she called the police.

Investigators learned that the boy had endured extensive abuse, and they arrested both parents. The abuse was so severe that had it continued, police suspected it would have come to their attention as a homicide case years later. The children are currently in foster care and are said to be doing well.

“Recognizing this heroism is critical to helping to pass on that love,” Fried said Thursday, before she handed Carvalho a proclamation declaring Jan. 28, 2021, to be “Flaviane Carvalho child advocacy day” in the state of Florida.

Since her story went viral, Carvalho and Mrs. Potato Restaurant have received national attention. The restaurant is busier than ever, and customers who come to shake Carvalho’s hands or pose for a photo have become the norm.

Many came to the restaurant with checks in hand, and even more flooded the restaurant’s phone line to ask how to show their support for Carvalho. The restaurant owner, Rafaela Cabede, started a GoFundMe, and within two weeks it raised more than $40,000.

“The community’s been so supportive,” Carvalho said. “I’m overwhelmed.”

She plans to use the money to pay her bills, pay off debt, and take a few days off from work to spend with her family. With the remaining money, Carvalho said she will launch a non-profit to encourage people to pay attention to their surroundings and teach them when to intervene.

“I want to leave a message that, ‘Hey, let’s wake up. Let’s look around and love our neighbors,’” she said. “If you see something, say something.”

People from all around the world have sent Carvalho letters — about 400, since the last time she counted — describing the trauma that comes from not saying something.

“People say the same thing,” Carvalho said. “‘I was always outside with bruises, cuts, and no one saw me. No one helped me. I wish I had a Flaviane in my life.’ It’s very sad.”

Reading the letters takes an emotional toll, but Carvalho said she is taking time to respond to all of them. Many call her a hero, but that’s not how she feels.

She said it was God who sat the family at the only table in the restaurant where she could communicate without the parents knowing. It was God who led her into work that night to cover a co-worker’s shift, and it was her coworkers who delayed in bringing the family their check so they wouldn’t leave before the police arrived.

But most importantly, she said, it was the boy who asked for help.

“The hero is him, it’s the boy,” Carvalho said. “He was strong enough to ask for help, to get out of the situation. With his actions, he saved his sister. To me, he is the hero.”