Last Friday, while many children were dreaming of Christmas morning and the presents it will bring, one 7-year-old boy was being flown from a hospital in Redding to the UC Davis Medical Center.
The little boy, who has come to be known as "Junior the Christmas boy" in and around his hometown of Cottonwood in Shasta County, had spent most of the previous week at the base of a bunk bed.
He had been lying on a fold-out mattress that was pulled out 12 inches. The mattress had no sheets or blankets.
Authorities say he was beaten nearly to death by a 27-year-old woman who had been caring for him for two years, the one he referred to as "Mom" when Shasta County deputies showed up at the door.
District Attorney Gerald Benito said the nature of the charges – attempted premeditated murder, torture, aggravated mayhem, child abuse and a special allegation of great bodily injury – offer only a glimpse of what happened to "Junior."
"This is the most horrendous case of child abuse I have ever seen doing this type of work," Benito said.
Authorities are not identifying the boy, who is now a ward of the county. When deputies found him, according to a sheriff's report, he had burns on his chest, lacerations to his forehead, and bruises on his face, neck, torso, backs, arms, legs and feet.
He had six broken ribs, a collapsed lung and serious internal injuries. Had he been left untreated for another 24 hours, medical workers later said, he would have died.
Junior was discovered Dec. 11 because of an anonymous phone call to authorities, who went to a Cottonwood home and demanded to see him. Gregory Limon, who answered the door, initially said the boy wasn't there and told deputies they couldn't come in because it was his sister's house, not his, the sheriff's report says.
Deputies explained to Limon that they were doing a welfare check and would arrest him if he did not get out of their way.
They went inside and found the boy in a bedroom. On the floor nearby were bottles of Pedialyte and penicillin.
"While waiting for medical, I sat with the Victim," a deputy wrote in the sheriff's report. "I asked the Victim who hurt him.
"The Victim replied, 'I did it to myself.' "
He added that he had not been lying on the mattress the whole time, that he had gone shopping with "Mom" despite his injuries because he had to.
"I'm under a lot of pressure," the 7-year-old explained through labored breathing.
By then, deputies had called Rachel Ann Limon, the woman who had been taking care of Junior, and asked her to come to the home. She arrived two hours later and eventually was arrested.
She told detectives she had not given the boy any medicine and had not taken him to a doctor, the sheriff's report said.
"Rachel admitted to me that she has kept the Victim out of school due to his visible injuries," the report says. "Rachel admitted she knew what she did was wrong."
Limon is being held in the Shasta County jail on $1.5 million bail. Her attorney, David Wilson of Redding, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Limon told detectives that the beatings had gone on for more than a week, the result of "tension" between her and the boy's biological mother, the sheriff's report said.
The tension was caused in part because Limon has a child with the boy's biological father, the sheriff's report said.
"Rachel admitted to punching the Victim over the course of approximately a week for various reasons," the report said. "The main reason for the abuse was out of revenge due to the problems between Rachel and (the boy's mother)."
The report also noted that Limon's three biological children – a 7-year-old girl, an 8-year-old boy and an 8-month-old infant – were healthy and had not been abused.
"The children stated they had been disciplined before by Rachel but not how the Victim was," it states.
Authorities are still trying to sort out how Junior ended up in Limon's care. Neither of the boy's biological parents had custody, authorities said.
The boy is a ward of Shasta County's Child Protective Services unit and, once he recovers, likely will end up with a foster family.
The allegations horrified residents of the area where the boy lived, and word that he is expected to recover led people to contribute to a special bank fund set up to buy him Christmas gifts.
"We're just waiting to see how he heals," said Dottie Smith, a blogger at the Redding Record Searchlight who organized a campaign to help Junior.
Read the full story at the Sacramento Bee.