Abby Martinez had been feeling sick and close to tears all day. She had lunch with a friend, but could hardly eat.
She didn’t know what was wrong, but suspected the feeling might have to do with her 19-year-old daughter Yaeli, who identified as a man.
When Martinez couldn’t shake a feeling of deep sadness on Sept. 4, 2019, she called Yaeli to make sure she was all right after not receiving a response by text.
No answer. Her daughter’s silence led Martinez to imagine the worst. Finally, Yaeli texted back.
“She’s OK,” Martinez remembers thinking.
Yaeli lived about 15 minutes away from her mother’s home in Azusa, California. Mother and daughter exchanged a few messages.
Yaeli “told me a little bit of the day at work,” Martinez told The Daily Signal during an interview, but then her daughter’s responses stopped coming.
Around 10 p.m., Martinez received a call from a police officer, who asked whether Yaeli was with her.
“I said, ‘No.’ Then my heart started to go a hundred miles.”
Yaeli was missing. Martinez met police at her daughter’s home, but she wasn’t there. She decided she would visit some local hospitals to try to find her. Nothing.
The following morning, Martinez was driving on a highway after dropping her son at school when her phone rang.
“I received a phone call from the coroner’s office,” Martinez said, her eyes full of tears.
She took the first exit and parked, her heart pounding.
“Tell me where’s my daughter,” Martinez asked the woman on the other end. “I want to go see her.”
“She said, ‘I’m so sorry, but you’re not going to be able to see your daughter.’ I say, why? What hospital is she in? I just want to see her.”
The woman then told Martinez that her daughter had taken her own life the night before.
“I was screaming. I said, ‘No, I want my daughter.’”
At that moment, Martinez said, she wished she could disappear.
When Yaeli was 6, Martinez had moved her children to her native El Savador. They went to school there for five years, but visited California during the summer.
In 2011, they moved back to California, but Martinez said she didn’t reconcile with Yaeli’s father. He had been in Yaeli’s life earlier and “she was Daddy’s little girl,” Martinez said.
Yaeli had struggled with depression since her early teens.
When she entered high school, her mother said, Yaeli befriended another girl who identified as a boy and suggested to Yaeli that the reason for her depression might be that she was actually a boy.
Yaeli attended an LGBTQ club at school that affirmed her questioning of her own gender. Her counselor at school also affirmed her decision to begin socially transitioning from female to male.
“I don’t know if the schools, they supposed to let us know what’s going on or not, but they never send me any note about telling me, ‘We need to talk about your daughter,’” Martinez, who is originally from El Salvador, said.
Martinez said she found out what was happening to Yaeli through one of her other children, who attended the same high school.
Martinez recalls taking her daughter out to eat and asking her to share what was really going on in her life.
Yaeli told her mom: “I don’t want to talk about it because you guys are not going to be supportive.”
Martinez recalled responding to her daughter by saying, “Well, we don’t know. So, if you tell us what’s going on I’ll be more than happy to help you. I’d do anything to help you, Yaeli. The only thing that I need, and I wanted it for you, is to see the happy girl that used to be before.”
“She said, ‘I’m not a girl. I’m a boy.’”
When Yaeli was 16, she moved out of her mother’s home.
Because Martinez expressed concerns over her daughter’s “transitioning” to a boy, Yaeli’s school psychologist recommended that she would be better off living away from home.
Martinez lost custody of her daughter to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
Martinez says she was allowed to visit her daughter for one hour a week. After six months, she got two hours.
The logic of the Department of Children and Family Services was that “if we keep [Yaeli] out of your home, she [will] have more chance to survive,” Martinez recalled. “She’s not going to try to commit suicide.”
For about three years, Yaeli lived away from her family. She legally changed her name to Andrew and started taking cross-sex hormones.
Martinez watched as her daughter struggled to find happiness and relief from her depression.
“She was taking the [cross-sex] hormones; she was not happy. She changed her name, [but] was not happy,” Martinez said. “She adopted a dog because that was going to make her happy. None of it, everything that they’ve done, didn’t work.”
After identifying as a male for about three years, changing her name, and taking cross-sex hormones, Yaeli took her own life about six months before her 20th birthday.
And Martinez got that phone call from the coroner’s office.
She learned that her daughter had knelt on railroad tracks and raised her hands toward the sky as a train approached.
“I don’t want any parent to go through this,” Martinez told The Daily Signal. “Because this pain never goes away. … You breathe and you can feel the pain.”
She says she questioned Children and Family Services after her daughter’s death, saying, “Where is my daughter? You took her away from me, my family. Now she’s gone. You told me that she was going to be better off.”
Martinez said the agency had no adequate response.
The Daily Signal asked the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services for comment. The agency replied March 16, saying in part:
We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Andrew M., as well as to the LGBTQIA community which advocates relentlessly to protect its youngest and most vulnerable members from such tragedies. State law protects the confidentiality of records for all children and families who may have come to the attention of child protective services, and prohibits confirming or commenting on whether a child or family has been involved with the department.
When Children and Family Services took her daughter from her, Martinez said, she was painted as “the bad guy.”
“Even though I talked to them about the depression, they didn’t care about [it], it didn’t matter,” Yaeli’s mother said.
“I wish one day, the system changes and [they] really help these kids” struggling with gender identity, Martinez said.
“I want them to explore what’s going on. Why [are children] acting the way that they are? Why [are they] feeling … the way that they feel? I want them to … be aware of the mental care.”
“They don’t talk about it,” Martinez said, referring to Children and Family Services and her daughter’s public school. “There is a lot of kids who are committing suicide. The system offers them that they will pay for anything, hormones, any surgery that they need.”
“I wish the system, instead of spending millions of dollars on these kids, having them in foster care, [would instead] support us as a parent and give us the tools that we need,” Yaeli’s mother said.
Instead, she said, what exists is a “broken system that is destroying our family.”
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