What the Gabriel Fernandez Docuseries Reveals About Childhood Trauma

What the Gabriel Fernandez Docuseries Reveals About Childhood Trauma

It’s one of the most gut-wrenching, horrifying, heartbreaking things you’ll ever see. The Netflix docuseries, “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez,” chronicles the 2013 brutal torture and murder of the 8-year-old boy at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend.

The series details how the young boy was routinely beaten, forced to eat kitty litter, and shot in the face with a BB gun. Gabriel’s mother, Pearl, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, also repeatedly locked him a cabinet, pepper-sprayed him, burned him with cigarettes, called him “gay,” and performed other unconscionable acts. In the series, one of the first responders who arrived on the scene after Pearl called 911 on May 22, 2013, to report that her son had stopped breathing said it was the worst case of abuse she had ever seen.

It makes you wonder, how could anyone inflict such abuse on an innocent child?

Spoiler alert: The remainder of this article reveals information from later episodes of the docuseries.

A Dangerous Cycle of Abuse

In one of the episodes, viewers learn about Pearl’s turbulent background and discover that she herself had been a victim of abuse at a young age. She was beaten by her mother, gang-raped, and subjected to an attempted rape by one of her uncles. Pearl started using drugs (methamphetamine and crack cocaine) and drinking alcohol at a very young age, which likely altered her brain function.

Drug and alcohol abuse early in life interferes with brain development and a process called myelination. During this important maturation process that typically isn’t completed until a person’s mid-20s, a protective sheath coats neurons to help speed communication within the brain. It starts at the back of the brain and works its way forward. The prefrontal cortex (involved in judgment, empathy, decision-making, and impulse control), which is located behind the forehead, is the last area to gain this protective coating. When this process is disrupted, it can lead to lifelong dysfunction, poor decision-making, impulsivity, and a lack of empathy.

In fact, the series shows that according to a neurocognitive evaluation by a clinical psychologist, scans of Pearl’s brain showed abnormalities in the right frontal and parietal lobes. The evaluation also indicated that Pearl had a low IQ and no education beyond the 8th grade. In addition, she had been diagnosed with a litany of mental health disorders, including depression, eating disorders, developmental disability, PTSD, and possible personality disorder.

None of this excuses what she did to her sweet child, but it brings to light the fact that it is common for childhood abuse to repeat from one generation to the next.

Can this cycle be stopped?

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

What brain imaging and clinical psychiatric practice have shown us is that there is hope for putting an end to this destructive cycle. Here are 3 important steps in the process.

1. Acknowledge childhood trauma.

If you remember the pain and trauma from the past, it can help you break it for future generations. If, however, you repress it, you are more likely to repeat it.

2. Seek treatment.

Some forms of psychotherapy, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can be very helpful to eliminate or decrease the pain from past traumas (see www.emdria.org to find a therapist near you). Addressing other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, or PTSD, can help improve the overall quality of life and the ability to have healthy relationships.

3. Focus on brain health.

Because childhood trauma can get stuck in the brain’s emotional centers and prevent the brain from processing information normally, it is of the utmost importance to enhance overall brain function with a healthy diet, daily exercise, abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and other lifestyle strategies. Brain imaging studies show that you can change your brain and change your life, which in turn, will change the lives of your children and their grandchildren.

It’s impossible to know if Gabriel’s death could have been avoided if Pearl had sought treatment for her own abusive childhood and mental health problems and if she had adopted brain healthy habits. However, this tragic story should be a wake-up call for all of us to try to heal the traumas of the past that continue to haunt us today and that have a negative effect on our relationships with our children.

At Amen Clinics, we take a comprehensive approach to diagnosing and treating our patients. We perform sophisticated brain imaging to detect underlying brain dysfunction that may be affecting your quality of life and the ability to be an effective parent. We also perform lab work (when needed) and do an extensive assessment of your personal history to identify biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors that may be contributing to your symptoms. This allows our physicians to create a targeted treatment plan for your individual needs. 

If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health, overcome their symptoms, and improved their quality of life at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. My children’s father and I were severely abused as children. We decided when we found out I was pregnant with my daughter that we would not raise our children the way we were raised. We have broken the cycle of abuse for our children and hopefully for generations to come! No child should fear their parents and relatives. Children were put on the planet to be loved and cherished!

    Comment by Keely — March 26, 2020 @ 8:54 AM

  2. i have read many of Dr Amen and his wife’s books -followed them for years- thankful for their information and instruction -my question is: how can this be made available to more people, most people i know that could benefit from it cannot afford it……

    Comment by lou — March 27, 2020 @ 12:06 AM

  3. Dr. Amen,
    As a veteran offering EFT to veterans at no cost…what are your views on the use of EFT, since you mentioned EMDR? Considering that the signature injury from iraq/afghanistan is traumatic brain injury…In my experience, during the process in nuetralizing the combat experience, am lead to childhood experience where the original “injury” occurred in limiting beliefs etc…s/lil

    Comment by Lil — March 27, 2020 @ 7:36 AM

  4. I truly sympathize with the poor child who was physically and emotionally abused and murdered by his mother and her boyfriend. May he RIP.

    I went through an abusive childhood. My mother was extremely verbally and emotionally abusive towards me. She just loved to humiliate me in public. When I would tell some people, I was told to “just toughen up”. Fast forward to menopause. I was told by a female medical doctor that I should just “tough out the symptoms”. A human can only be so tough before he or she just gives up.

    Comment by Margaret — March 27, 2020 @ 7:54 AM

  5. I love this, Keely! Jesus is with you every step of the way.

    Comment by Sally Carter — March 27, 2020 @ 11:05 AM

  6. I found two things the most helpful. Prayer, and journalling. Sometimes it was journalling a prayer. I discovered a lot about myself and my feelings as I got my anger and fears and frustrations down on paper (for my eyes only). Sometimes I drew pictures of how I felt (not good ones, but line drawings. I drew one of me hiding in a large box, down on my knees with a 1,000 pound weight upon my back, and outside the box people were calling my name). I prayed, and prayed too. As I looked back and re-read my writings from time to time, I saw myself changing, and saw that prayers had been answered. I learned to value myself and to stand up for myself. I wish you good fortune in taking care of yourself. You don’t have to toughen up, but speak up for yourself. You have value and deserve to be respected and listened to. Find a new doctor too who listens and understands.

    Comment by Marilyn — May 26, 2020 @ 9:08 AM

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