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Father confesses to killing his 5-year-old son

By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / November 26, 2008
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MIDDLETON—Ernesto L. Gonzalez Jr. has spent the last three months in a jail cell here refusing to respond to the question that authorities believe only he can answer: What happened to his 5-year-old son, Giovanni, who vanished during a weekend visit with his father in August.

Today, he broke his silence in chilling fashion. During a jailhouse interview with a Globe reporter, Gonzalez confessed to stabbing his son to death and dismembering the small body in the bathtub of his Lynn apartment. He said he then placed his son's body parts into six plastic grocery bags and discarded them in three different trash bins around Lynn. He pedaled from one dumpster to the next on his bicycle.

"I know where he is," Gonzalez said in Spanish, his voice calm and his gaze flat. "My son isn't alive. He's dead."

Asked why he did it, Gonzalez said that it just "happened."

"I didn't want to kill my son," he said. "I don't know what happened in that moment." He said he loved his son and is "regretful."

The extraordinary confession was met with skepticism by authorities, who have yet to find evidence in the apartment that would corroborate Gonzalez's account. The interview followed months of reticence on the part of Gonzalez, who refused to cooperate with investigators, barely spoke during brief court hearings on a child endangerment charge, and declined the tearful overtures from Giovanni's mother to please reveal the whereabouts of her only son.

The disappearance of the ebullient and occasionally rambunctious boy triggered a massive search by air, water and land, from Lynn and Lawrence to Florida and Puerto Rico. Authorities and his mother, Daisy Colon, who lived with her son in East Boston, appealed for help on television, on a donated billboard, and on the Internet. Law enforcement officials in Essex County had described the case as one of the most frustrating of their careers.

This evening, Colon could not be reached for comment.

The Globe reporter arrived at the jailhouse unannounced today and asked guards to see whether Gonzalez would be willing to speak. About 20 minutes later, the reporter was led through security checkpoints to a time-worn visitation room. Gonzalez, wearing a bright orange prison-issue jumpsuit, appeared on the other side of a Plexiglas partition.

The reporter explained who she was and twice displayed her newspaper identification. The interview was then conducted in English and Spanish through a telephone hookup. He spoke for half an hour, until authorities ended the interview because the time allotment was up. The Globe was not allowed to tape record the interview as part of jail policy.

The Globe notified the Essex County District Attorney's office of Gonzalez's remarks shortly after the interview. His confession, while potentially serving as a break in the case, has left authorities baffled and raised questions about whether Gonzalez is even telling the truth. Authorities, up to now, have found no physical evidence of violence committed against Giovanni inside the apartment.

"We tested that apartment completely," a senior law enforcement official said earlier this evening. "To do what he told [the reporter] he did is not a plausible story. I don't know what his motive is" in confessing to the crime.

The case has remained under active investigation. Authorities are awaiting test results on drains in the apartment and are also conducting new tests on a bottle cap to a household cleaning agent, according to the law enforcement official.

Essex County authorities said they do not discount the possibility that Giovanni is dead, but said they will compare what Gonzalez told the Globe to the physical evidence they have collected from his apartment.

Authorities held out new hope that since Gonzalez, a 36-year-old former meat packer, talked to a reporter, that he would now cooperate with them. Gonzalez has been charged with child endangerment and has been held since on $500,000 cash bail.

"We hope that eventually he would want to talk to the police and tell us what happened," said Lieutenant Detective Elaine Gill of the State Police, who said it is up to his lawyer and Gonzalez to decide. "We'll keep pursuing the case."

Gonzalez's lawyer, Lawrence Maguire, was sharply critical of the Globe for interviewing Gonzalez while the case is pending. He recently filed court documents seeking the dismissal of all charges, contending there was no evidence that Gonzalez harmed his child.

"You certainly haven't done your job as a journalist," Maguire said, adding, "I have nothing to say."

Giovanni, who loved to play ball, had an affinity for Spiderman, and often dressed in a Superman costume with padded muscles, was reported missing by his mother on Aug. 17, when she went to the father's house to retrieve the child from a weekend visit and he was not there.

At the time, Gonzalez told police that Giovanni had not visited him that weekend -- and has refused to speak with authorities ever since.

But today, Gonzalez said Giovanni was at his apartment that weekend and had been "behaving badly." He said the boy ripped a bedsheet, fiddled with the television, spit, threw bottles, pushed against the refrigerator, and jabbed Gonzalez in the back with a pen.

"I scolded him, but I tried to ignore him," said Gonzalez.

Of the stabbing, he said, "It happened. I didn't want to do it."

Around 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning, he said, he was in the kitchen and Giovanni was standing and yelling in front of the refrigerator.

The next thing he knew, Gonzalez said, he was stabbing the boy with a red-handled kitchen knife.

"It happened fast. I was upset," he said. "It happened in a moment."

Gonzalez said he put the boy's body in the bathtub, stuffed the remains into six plastic grocery bags, and loaded the bags into a black-and-gold duffel bag emblazoned with the word "rollerblades." He got on his bicycle and dumped the bags in trash bins at three different locations: A stone church near the Lynn Common, a Big Lots discount store, and behind a store on Union Street, near an Eastern Bank. All the locations were in Lynn, he said.

He said he washed the knife and returned it to a kitchen drawer.

Gonzalez said he doubted Giovanni's remains could be found. Gill, the State Police investigator, said today that the dumpsters are unloaded into an incinerator.

Asked why he was breaking his silence, Gonzalez said he believed he would never get out of prison.

"I'm going to be here a long time," he said. "My son isn't here. They're not going to let me go. Why not talk?"

He related his story calmly until the end of the interview, when his eyes watered and his voice broke.

"I don't know how to say I'm sorry," he said. "It's my son."

Authorities and family members had hoped that the boy would be found alive -- and waged a massive search that included Puerto Rico, where Giovanni's parents were raised.

But bus station and airport surveillance videos showed no trace of the boy, and Gonzalez had few resources to hide him. He had no car, and he had sent the bulk of his money -- about $14,000 -- to a former girlfriend in Puerto Rico a few months earlier to help support another child, authorities said.

In an interview today before the confession, Colon said she and Gonzalez had clashed over how to discipline the boy.

But in the months before the boy disappeared, Gonzalez had sought visitation rights, and Colon said she was touched by Giovanni's eagerness to see his father, who had named the boy himself. In a reunion picture taken a few weeks earlier, Giovanni happily sat in his father's lap.

The weekend Giovanni disappeared, Gonzalez's neighbors said they saw Giovanni outside his apartment building on Saturday afternoon, kicking around a ball with his father, who they said seemed angry and spoke sharply to the boy in Spanish. The boy was seen after that at a therapist's office with his dad later on Saturday, Aug. 16.

Gonzalez's immediate neighbor told police that she heard a child laughing around 8 p.m. Saturday in Gonzalez's apartment as she left for the night shift.

The next day, Colon, 33, went to pick up Giovanni at the father's apartment, but no one answered the door. She called police, who found Gonzalez inside the apartment, but Giovanni was not there. Gonzalez said he never had the boy that weekend.

Colon has spent the last three months waiting for a call telling her that her son had been found. Giovanni's toy box -- with his beloved Transformers and Spiderman figurines -- remains packed into his bedroom. The room is sealed shut.

Colon's canceled a planned trip to Puerto Rico with Giovanni, and he missed his first day of kindergarten at Samuel Adams School. She cannot bear to look at his pictures.

She has said repeatedly that she did not believe that Gonzalez would hurt their son, and begged him publicly to tell her where he is.

"I don't think he is capable of that," she said today, in an interview that occurred before Gonzalez spoke to the Globe. "Not to his own son."

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