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The server flashed a handwritten note to a little boy at her table. He wore glasses, a mask and a hoodie, but bruises peeked out from behind all of them.
“ARE YOU OK?” the note said.
The boy nodded. He was skinny, Flaviane Carvalho said, and he was the only one at the table of four who hadn’t been ordered any food. She flashed a second sign behind his parents’ back a few minutes later.
“DO YOU NEED HELP?”
He nodded again.
Carvalho, a manager and server at Mrs. Potato Restaurant on South Kirkman Road, called the Orlando Police Department shortly before midnight Jan. 1. When questioned by police, the 11-year-old boy said the bruises were accidents: The ones on his face happened when he fell out of bed, he said. The ones covering his arm were from wrestling his stepfather.
Police took the boy to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, where the extent of his injuries became clear. They covered the side of his face. Both eyelids and earlobes were mottled and bruised, and the bruises on his arm made it hurt to roll up his sleeve, said OPD detective Erin Lawler.
He was 20 pounds underweight.
“‘Abuse,’ I say lightly,” Lawler told reporters Thursday. “It was torture.”
The boy told police he had been tied by his ankles and neck and hung upside down from a door in his home. He said his stepfather beat him with a wooden broom, a back scratcher and closed fists, and that he’d been handcuffed and tied to a large moving dolly, police said.
Detectives learned that the boy’s parents regularly withheld food and made him exercise excessively as punishment, Lawler said. She said he was made to hold a plank position for 30 minutes and punished when he couldn’t. He couldn’t hold a handstand, detectives said, so his parents used straps to hang him upside down by his ankles.
The boy told detectives the abuse began around Christmas, but detectives suspect, based on the extent of his injuries, that it was more prolonged. He said Santa had suggested he be punished, Lawler said, so he was handcuffed to furniture and made to set himself free.
The boy’s stepfather, Timothy Wilson II, 34, was arrested on charges of child abuse and neglect on the night Carvalho called the police, according to an OPD arrest affidavit. He has no prior history of violent crime, Lawler said.
The child’s mother, Kristen Swann, 31, was also at the restaurant. Detectives said she told them she knew about the abuse but didn’t seek medical help. She was arrested Jan. 6 on a child neglect charge.
The boy’s 4-year-old sister appeared not to have been abused, Lawler said. Both she and her older brother were removed by the Florida Department of Children and Families.
“That child was destined to be killed,” said OPD Chief Orlando Rolón. “That’s how severe the injuries were. That’s how horrific the recollection of the abuse the child shared with us was.”
Those who wish to support the children can mail donations to the following address: 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.