He was a child burdened with the adult responsibility of caring for his sick and disabled mother.
Now the Elk Grove boy, 11, is facing serious charges of lashing her with an electrical cord, and Sacramento County juvenile court must decide where he should stay while the criminal case against him plays out.
In court on Monday, the boy's father came prepared to bring him home from juvenile hall, where he has been since his arrest last week, to live with him and his girlfriend. But the child's older sister, who is in her 20s and lives in Southern California, also appeared and argued that her brother would be better off with her because the father failed to intervene earlier on the youth's behalf.
"Probation is OK with the minor's release to his adult sister, as opposed to the father," said Deputy District Attorney Natalia Luna.
"The concern is with the medical condition of the mother and the fact that the father was aware of it and the minor was left in that predicament," Luna said. "We don't believe that it would be an adequate placement at this time."
The Bee is not naming the boy or his family members to comply with its policy of not identifying juvenile suspects.
Assistant Public Defender Jeremiah Van Etten said the distance from Southern California to Sacramento would complicate the case. He also met with the boy who he described as "witty, energetic" and emotionally mature for his age and said he wants to live with his father.
The father "has been very active in his son's life" and is capable of caring for him, Van Etten said.
Juvenile Court Referee Natalie Lindsey decided the boy would be released to his father while the social services and probation departments assess the situation.
All the while the wide-eyed boy, wearing a white T-shirt, dark pants and canvas shoes, fidgeted in his seat between his dad and his lawyer.
Elk Grove police said the youth beat his mother with an electrical cord on more than one occasion, causing injuries that required hospital treatment.
They arrested him last week at school and charged him with elder abuse and assault with a deadly weapon.
Relatives said the mother is seriously ill and bears scars from skin cancer treatment. They questioned whether the boy deliberately harmed her and said he never should have been arrested or prosecuted.
The mother, whose case has been referred to Adult Protective Services, remained in the hospital Monday and is fighting pneumonia, family members said.
As for the boy, "all avenues remain open" for the future, Lindsey said at Monday's hearing.
"Both sides have a lot of work to do," said Van Etten. "The question is what is in this child's best interest."
The boy's sister left Monday's proceedings in tears and declined to comment. His father said only that the court did the right thing.