A 1-year-old boy died of severe burns. Were warning signs of abuse ignored?

The injuries to little Henry Wheatley Brown were horrific.

The 1-year-old had suffered burns that his mother, Samantha Garver, and her boyfriend, Sergio Mena, told authorities were the result of him being left in a hot bath. Garver said the baby had been fine just 40 minutes before paramedics arrived Oct. 1 at their home in Sugarloaf, near Big Bear.

But paramedics found Henry cold to the touch. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A trove of investigative records released to The Times revealed a troubling history of allegations of child abuse and neglect stretching back more than a decade against Garver, 33, including another case involving burns to one of her other children in 2013. Garver had four children; Henry was the youngest.

The San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services did not provide comment regarding the documents.

Both Mena and Garver told authorities that Garver was not home at the time Henry suffered his fatal injuries — second-degree burns from his shins down to his feet as well as "isolated" second-degree burns on his genitals consistent with having been "dipped in hot water," according to an investigation by San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services.

But even if the doomed baby's mother was not home, an investigation released to The Times by CFS found that she did little to save her child.

"The mother allowed the child to suffer for several hours before he eventually died," according to the report, submitted October 25.

For more than a decade, police and child services investigators repeatedly responded to calls for service to Garver's home, though it was not clear what exactly was done to ensure the safety of her children.

The records documenting the visits and investigations were released to The Times by San Bernardino's Department of Children and Family Services following a request for information about the death of Henry. While all the names in the report released to The Times were redacted, the facts in the allegations line up with public information released in the case of Garver and Mena. The victim, referred to only as H, is Henry.

"The investigation conducted by San Bernardino County Children and Family Services regarding the aforementioned decedent is complete. A determination has been made that abuse or neglect led to the child’s death," said Jeany Zepeda, director of San Bernardino CFS in an emailed statement that names Henry.

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Garver has been on the radar of San Bernardino County Children and Family Services — with some gaps — since 2009, when she was first reported for general neglect, the records show.

She was reported again in 2010, when she told a doctor she had "felt like putting a pillow over" one of her children's faces because the child "wouldn't stop crying." Another report was filed against Garver in 2013, investigative documents show.

After Henry's birth, Garver was reported again, and an investigator found on Aug. 19, 2022, that her children were at "high risk" of abuse and neglect, records show. Despite that, another investigator found that the children were "safe."

"No safety threats are present," the investigator wrote in the same report.

Henry's grandmother, Sierra Rivers, told The Times she was the one who reported Garver to authorities.

"I called after Henry was born. I was not convinced" he was safe, Rivers said.

Rivers had been concerned about Garver's children ever since she saw Garver slap one of her other kids hard in the face, she said.

But when she confronted Garver about the slap, Rivers said, Garver was not remorseful.

"I got abused as a kid and I got hit as a baby, and I turned out fine,'" Rivers recalled Garver telling her.

In 2013, a person reported Garver to Children and Family Services after she posted troubling comments in a Facebook group chat that was meant for people to ask and debate questions, according to investigative documents.

The person who ran the Facebook page said Garver posted on Jan. 10, 2013, asking whether "duct taping a child's mouth is abusive," the report says. At the time, Garver had an 8-month-old baby as well as two older toddlers, according to investigative documents.

A few weeks later, Garver posted on the Facebook page again saying that a friend of hers was watching one of her babies while she went to the store and that when Garver returned home, the baby was suffering from "blistered burns on her thighs."

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Garver posted that she was scared of CFS and did not want to take her daughter to the hospital out of fear that the burns would be reported to the agency, according to the party who reported her.

On Jan. 31, 2013, authorities conducted a wellness check based on a report about the burns to the daughter, according to documents that don't identify the source of the report.

Garver told investigators that the baby suffered the burns after getting "stuck between the wall and a heater," according to the documents.

The child was hospitalized but child service investigators found another sickening scene at the home.

There was “fecal matter all over the bedroom that the children sleep in and it appears as though it has been there for quite some time. There are also roaches all over the place. Mother will not be arrested but she will be charged with felony child neglect," wrote an investigator with CFS in a report.

Garver was charged that day with felony willful cruelty to a child with possible injury or death. The charges were dismissed, and she later pleaded guilty to lesser charges of misdemeanor willful cruelty to a child, according to court documents. It was not clear whether she admitted to burning the child.

She was sentenced to 100 days in jail, but she failed to turn herself in that July and was listed as a fugitive by a judge, court documents show.

Garver and her boyfriend Mena, 32, have both been charged with murder and child abuse in connection with Henry's death.

Both told child welfare investigators that Garver was not home when Henry suffered his fatal burns. Garver told investigators that Mena was using methamphetamine at the time of the burns, but he did not admit to the CFS investigators to purposefully injuring the baby.

Investigators also found that Henry had other injuries that had gone untreated and unreported — a dislocated arm and marks and bruises on his face, according to investigative documents.

"The mother failed to seek medical attention for previous injuries that are indicative of possible physical abuse that occurred," the investigator wrote.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.