Orlando, Florida — A manager at a restaurant here noticed that a boy in a family of four seated on New Year's Day had bruises on his face and arms. Police said the man at the table didn't let the boy order any food.
Flavaine Carvalho decided to step in.
She wrote a note that said, "Do you need help? OK" and held it up so the boy could see it but his parents couldn't. He nodded no.
"A couple of minutes later, I wrote another sign, asking him if he needs help. And this is when he nodded, 'yes,'" Carvalho told a news conference Thursday.
CBS Orlando affiliate WKMG-TV reports Carvalho then called the owner of the Mrs. Potato restaurant, Rafaela Cabede, who agreed Carvalho should call police.
It turned out the boy was a victim of severe child abuse, authorities said.
"You saved the boy's life," Cabede told Carvalho. "It brings us to tears to think that someone can do that to a child."
The 11-year-old told Orlando detectives he had ratchet straps tied around his ankles and neck and was hung upside down from a door. He also said he'd been hit with a wooden broom and handcuffed and tied to a large moving dolly.
"Abuse, I say lightly: It was torture," detective Erin Lawler said. "What this child had gone through, like I said, was just torture -- there's, there's no justification for it in any realm."
The boy also said he didn't get to eat on a regular basis as a form of punishment, according to police.
The child's stepfather, Timothy Wilson II, was arrested on one count of third-degree child abuse. Investigators said they didn't arrest both parents at the restaurant because, at the time, there wasn't enough evidence.
Days later, authorities arrested both Wilson and Kristen Swann. Wilson was arrested on multiple counts of aggravated child abuse and child neglect.
Police said the boy's mother admitted to knowing about the abuse. She was arrested on two counts of child neglect.
"He had all sorts of different stages of bruising, so it wasn't like it was just one incident," Lawler added. "It was ongoing abuse and torture."
The Orlando Police Department said it regularly encourages people who see something to say something.
"When one woman took that advice to heart, she rescued a boy from some dangerous abuse," OPD said in a news release. "By saying something when she saw something, Ms. Carvalho displayed courage and care for a child she had never even met before, and we're proud someone like Ms. Carvalho lives and works in our community."
Another child was with the family on New Year's Day, but officials said she didn't show any signs of abuse or malnourishment.
Investigators said both children have been removed from the home and are said to be doing "very well and are very happy right now."
Police said a trust account has been created in support of the children involved in this abuse case.