ORLANDO, Fla. — An Orlando waitress told police she knew something was wrong when an 11-year-old boy sitting at one of her tables was forbidden from ordering anything to eat.
As a mother, she said, that’s not something you do; come to a restaurant and forbid your child from eating.
Then she noticed the bruises on his arms and face.
Her quick thinking in the moments that followed is now be credited for saving the boy’s life.
Waitress Flavaine Carvalho said she saw the marks on the few inches of skin she could see from underneath the boy’s hoodie, glasses and face mask. There was a glimpse of a bruise on his temple. A big scratch between his eyebrows.
Carvalho concocted a plan. She wrote, “Are you OK?” on a piece of paper and held it up to the boy from where his parents couldn’t see from their booth at Mrs Potato Restaurant.
At first, the boy shook his head no.
“I knew it that he was afraid,” she said.
So she tried again. “Do you need help?” she wrote on another piece of paper. This time, he nodded.
Carvalho phoned her boss for advice and then called police.
“This could have been a homicide situation if she had not have intervened,” Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon said.
The boy’s stepfather, Timothy Wilson II, 34, was arrested on one count of third-degree child abuse.
In interviews with detectives, they said the boy told them his stepfather hit him with his fists, a wooden broom and a back scratcher. The boy told detectives he was hung upside down from a door frame by his ankles and, in another instance, strapped to a furniture dolly.
Officers said the boy winced in pain when officers asked him to roll up the sleeves of his sweatshirt. There were bruises, they said, covering nearly his entire body.
Police said the boy also said he regularly wasn’t allowed to eat as punishment. He was 20 pounds underweight.
“To be honest what this child had gone through was torture,” Detective Erin Lawler said. “There was no justification for it in any realm of the world. I’m a mother and seeing what that 11-year-old had to go through, it shocks your soul.”
After police learned the additional details of the abuse, they said they arrested Wilson again on multiple counts of aggravated child abuse and child neglect.
Police said when they interviewed the child’s mother, Kristen Swann, she admitted to knowing about the abuse and failing to seek medical care for the boy. She was arrested and charged with two counts of child neglect.
Investigators said both the boy and a 4-year-old girl were removed from the couple’s custody by the Department of Children and Families. They said there was no evidence of physical abuse to the girl.
Police said the family had recently moved to the area and were staying at an extended-stay hotel.
Because of Carvalho’s actions, Rolon said two children’s lives were potentially saved.
“The lesson here for all of us is to recognize when we see something that isn’t right to act on it… This saved the life of a child,” Rolon said.
The owner of the restaurant, Rafaela Cabede, said she credits what took place to a higher power.
She said Carvalho wasn’t scheduled to be working the night she spotted the child. She was only there because another employee called out. And the family was sitting at the only table in the restaurant where Carvalho would have been able to hold the sign up to the boy without the rest of his family seeing.
They were also the last table of the night, allowing Carvalho to pay more attention to the family.
“We understand that this has to encourage other people that when you see something, say something,” Cabede said. “We know when we see a situation that is wrong, we know what’s the right thing to do. We know that speaking up is the right thing to do. But it takes more than acknowledging it. It takes courage.”
Orlando police said Thursday that a trust account has been created in support of the children involved in the case. Those who wish to donate can send donations to the address below:
COLE, SCOTT & KISSANE , P.A. Trust Account c/o The Northern Trust Company
600 Brickell Avenue, Suite 2400
Miami, Florida 33131
Attn: Michael Villasana For the benefit of the minor children of Wilson/Swann
A GoFundMe account has also been set up to benefit Carvalho. You can click here to donate.
You can watch the full news conference where investigators discuss the case below: