© TwitterA child as asked a waitress for help using a secret note.
When a quick-thinking Florida waitress noticed that a young boy at her restaurant was oddly quiet, had no food and appeared to have multiple injuries on his face - while the rest of his family were talking and enjoying their meal - she knew something was wrong.
Flaviane Carvalho, who works at a popular family-owned restaurant in Orlando, wrote a note that said, "Do you need help," and secretly held it up while standing in a spot where only the child could see her. The 11-year-old initially hesitated but eventually signaled yes, prompting her to call the police.
The brave server is now being credited with saving the life of a boy who police said was being tortured, beaten, handcuffed and even hung upside down from a door as a sickening form of punishment.
"We probably would be talking about a homicide investigation if she had not intervened," Police Chief Orlando Rolón told reporters at an emotional news conference Thursday.
The victim's mother and stepfather are now facing multiple charges, including child neglect and aggravated child abuse. The boy and his 4-year-old sister, who was not injured, have been taken into state custody and are both safe.
The incident happened on the evening of New Year's Day at Mrs. Potato. The stepfather, Timothy Lee II, was arrested at the scene and is believed to have caused the injuries found on the child. His wife, Kristen Swann, was charged days later for failing to stop the horrific abuse, authorities said.
Carvalho said she was serving the family that night when she noticed a "big scratch" and several bruises on the victim's face as well as additional bruises on his arms. When their order came out, Carvalho saw that the boy was the only without any food, so she went to the table and asked if everything was OK, the waitress told reporters at Thursday's news conference.
"I'm a mother also and that was very strange to me because you don't deny food to a kid, especially at a restaurant," she said.
But Lee and Swann told her everything was fine and that the boy would have his dinner at home later that night.
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Luckily, Carvalho said, the child was sitting in the only chair at the table where she could visually communicate with him without being noticed. So she wrote a note that said, "Is everything OK?" and showed it to him from a distance. He signaled no, Carvalho recalled. Moments later, she wrote a second note asking if he needed help, to which he signaled yes, leading her to call 911.
Moments later, the boy was taken to a hospital for an evaluation. That's when doctors found more bruises all over his body and learned he was severely underweight and in pain, said Orlando Police Detective Erin Lawler, who is leading the investigation.
The child told police that the couple denied him food on a regular basis and would sometimes punish him for failing to complete physical exercises. He described being handcuffed and tied to a large dolly, being hung upside down and struck by a wooden broom, according to police.
"It was torture. There was no justification for it," Lawler said. "I'm a mother and seeing what that 11-yr-old had to go through, it shocks your soul." © Provided by New York Daily NewsTimothy Lee II and Kristen Swann.
Timothy Lee II and Kristen Swann. (Orange County Corrections Department/)
There is no evidence the boy's sister, who is Lee and Swann's biological daughter, was ever assaulted, though Chief Rolón believes it was just a matter of time. He urged the public to follow Carvalho's example and report any suspicious activity to police, no matter how small.
"When you see something that is not right, act on it," he said. "Call us, let us know what is going on so we can follow through. We are 100% convinced that (Carvalho) saved the life of the child and potentially future abuse of his sister."
At Thursday's news conference, which was live-streamed by local news station WFTV, Carvalho repeatedly praised the boy for having the "courage" to ask for help and said she was happy she did something in situation where many people probably wouldn't.
"I feel glad that I did it," she said. "But at the same time, I feel that I just did what human beings are supposed to do to each other."