Julian Castillo wasn’t always afraid of the dark.
The 2 1/2-year-old didn’t always suffer nightmares.
Until recently, he didn’t have flashbacks either.
But Julian spent part of Saturday morning lying next to the bloodied body of his 26-year-old mother on the living room floor of their one-bedroom apartment, according to a police report.
“He saw everything,” the boy’s aunt, Lucy Fernandez, said.
Julian’s father, 26-year-old Jose Castillo, is accused of killing Esther Fernandez inside their Pinewood Crossing apartment in the 700 block of Twain Avenue, near Swenson Street and Flamingo Road.
Castillo turned himself in to the Ontario Police Department in California on Sunday. Las Vegas police detectives brought him back to Las Vegas and booked him into the county jail on charges of murder with a deadly weapon. Castillo had fled to Ontario because his mother lives there, Esther Fernandez’s relatives figured.
They also believe Castillo had been abusing the mother of his child.
“I don’t know how she stuck around with him,” said Richard Vela, Fernandez’s 38-year-old cousin, who lives in Las Vegas.
Lucy Fernandez said she had once seen bruises on her sister’s face. Castillo often yelled at her sister and “treated her badly.” But, she said, she didn’t really know if Castillo had long been physically abusing her sister.
“Who knows what goes on behind walls?” she said.
The couple had been together for about 4 1/2 years. They moved to Las Vegas with their son less than three months ago from a suburb of Los Angeles, family members said.
A friend of Castillo’s, Javier Maldonado told authorities that he had been drinking with Castillo at the couple’s apartment about 10 p.m. on the night prior to Fernandez’s body being discovered. Police reported that Maldonado told them Castillo threatened to shoot Fernandez in the leg when she forgot to bring him some clothes and called her “(expletive) stupid” several times. Maldonado also told police that Fernandez appeared afraid of Castillo.
About 3:30 a.m. Saturday, Castillo called some friends. He was panicked and told one of them, “I think I killed Esther,” according to a police report. He told them that Julian was lying next to Fernandez and thought his mother was asleep.
A flurry of phone calls went around to various family members. A relative called Vela at around 3:45 a.m. and told him to go check on the couple, which he did. When he got there, he thought he heard Castillo inside the apartment and went to get help. He returned with two security guards from the apartment complex and they went inside.
Castillo was gone but Julian was on the back porch. He had blood on him. Vela said he picked up Julian and rushed him out of the house and into his truck.
Police found blood splattered throughout the apartment. Fernandez was on the living room floor next to a sofa. She had two black eyes and bruises over her entire body as well as a large knife wound on her hand.
Police found photographs of Esther Fernandez with her face crossed out inside the apartment. They also found a handwritten note attached to a photo of Castillo, Fernandez and Julian.
The note was addressed to Julian, and officers summarized its contents as: “I am sorry I have taken your mother from you. I am now worthless.”
Family members said the worst aftershock of the killing is the effect it has had on Julian, who was very close to his mother. Family members recalled that the two were separated for several days in February while Fernandez attended the funeral for her grandmother in Yuma, Ariz. When she returned to Julian, he “just about jumped off the ground” with joy.
“She meant the world to him,” said Vela, who is taking care of Julian.
On Monday, Julian was at Vela’s house near Sahara Avenue and Nellis Boulevard. He was jumping and running around with a cousin as if nothing had changed. But family members said the boy knows that his mother is gone, and they think they need to get him some counseling.
He jolts awake at night in ways he never did prior to his mother’s death, Vela and Lucy Fernandez said. He pops up and says things that his mother used to say, they said.
Sometimes, they said, Julian stares toward the porch of the house.
“He just looks out the window, like he’s seeing his dad looking in,” Vela said.