WARNING: This story contains disturbing details and descriptions of abuse. Please read at your own discretion.
A diner server who spotted bruises on an 11-year-old boy is being hailed as a hero after she communicated with him in secret and called the police on his mom and stepdad.
“She stepped up to help rescue a child she had never met,” Orlando, Fla., police wrote on Facebook.
The couple faces multiple charges in connection with their treatment of the boy, which police described as “torture.”
The rescue played out on New Year’s Day in Orlando after the couple walked into a Mrs. Potato restaurant with the boy and a four-year-old girl.
Flavaine Carvalho says she was waiting on the family’s table when she noticed something odd about their order. The couple only ordered one kids’ meal and insisted that the boy didn’t need food or water.
“The boy was denied food,” Carvalho recalled in an interview with Orlando police, which has since been posted on Facebook. “The man told me that everything was OK and the boy was OK, and he was going to have his dinner at home.”
Carvalho says she felt “super strange” about the situation, and the boy looked “super quiet and sad.”
That’s when she noticed his bruises and a scratch over his eye.
Carvalho asked the boy if he was all right and he told her he was. Then she decided to ask him again in secret. She penned a note reading: “Do you need help?” and held it up behind the couple, so that only the boy could see it.
“OK,” Carvalho wrote on the note. She went into the back of the restaurant, called 911 and the police arrived a few minutes later.
The boy described several harrowing allegations of abuse, which Orlando police Det. Erin Lawler outlined at a briefing earlier this week.
“To be honest what this child had gone through was torture,” Lawler said, according to WFTV. “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.”
Police say the boy’s stepfather tied him to a door and hung him upside down, and that he beat the child with a wooden broom.
Authorities also described the allegedly brutal treatment that the boy faced at Christmas.
“For the parents, ‘Santa’ suggested that he be punished,” Lawler said. “He was handcuffed to a furniture dolly with his hands behind his back.”
Timothy Lee Wilson II, 34, has been charged with three counts of aggravated child abuse, one count of child abuse and one count of child neglect in connection with the incident, arrest records show.
Kristen Swann, 31, has been charged with two counts of child neglect.
Lawler says Swann, who is the boy’s mother, was charged “for her failure to act, and failure to protect the 11-year-old child.”
Child protective services are involved and the special victims unit is running the investigation.
Police hope the case will inspire others to be Good Samaritans if they spot a similar situation in the future.
“See something, say something,” they wrote on Facebook.
If you think someone is abusive to their partner, here is a list of resources to help.