I went to a wedding last weekend, and while you may not immediately recognize the name of the groom, I'll bet you know of him.
Despite a lifetime of obstacles, Gavin Arvizo — once at the center of a sensational child sex abuse scandal — has worked his way through to a triumphant life. At 13, Gavin accused Michael Jackson of molesting him, and the superstar was arrested.
It seemed life was stacked against this kid from the very beginning.
As a youngster he lived in a one-room apartment in East Los Angeles with two siblings and his parents. Poverty and domestic abuse was a way of life.
At age 8, this young Hispanic boy and his little brother were instructed by their father to walk out of a J.C. Penney store with clothing that wasn't paid for. Out in the parking lot the boys watched in horror as their father was surrounded by security guards and wrestled to the pavement. His mother, emerging from another store, soon joined in the melee, and both parents were handcuffed and taken to the police station.
At just 10 years old, Gavin was diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer. As he laid helpless in an L.A. hospital bed feigning sleep, he heard his parents being advised to plan his funeral. Following months of grueling treatments, this plucky kid pulled through.
While in the hospital, the boy's plight came to the attention of the King of Pop. Jackson sent a basket full of toys and good wishes. When he was well enough to travel, the boy and his family were invited to visit the singer's Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos. Knowing of their poverty, Jackson even sent a limousine to drive them. What a wonderful respite for a recuperating cancer patient and his exhausted parents!
But once back home, things got worse. Violence. Restraining orders. Divorce. Yet the limousines kept arriving, and the sleepovers in Jackson's master bedroom at Neverland continued.
The rest is history. Santa Barbara County authorities charged Jackson with child sexual abuse, giving intoxicating substances to a minor to facilitate child sexual abuse, conspiracy to cover up the crimes and more.
During the trial, Gavin, then 15, was vilified as an accomplished liar. Jackson's lawyer, Tom Mesereau, called him and his family "grifters" and "thieves," and he repeatedly warned the jury that the Arvizos were only "in it for the money."
The jury also heard about two other boys who said they, too, had been molested by Jackson. One was a maid's son, the other the son of an L.A. dentist. Both boys received generous payouts from Jackson in return for keeping quiet. The dentist's family got nearly $20 million.
The defense called a group of young men to the witness stand, leading off with dancer/choreographer Wade Robson. Each testified they had often slept in Jackson's bed when they were youngsters and nothing sexual had ever happened. Jackson was acquitted of all charges in June 2005.
In a stunning turnaround, Robson recently admitted he perjured himself at trial. He is attempting to file suit against the Jackson estate, claiming he suffered two nervous breakdowns because of the sexual abuse secret he harbored for so long.
During a Today Show interview, Robson said of Jackson, "He sexually abused me from 7 years old until 14. He performed sexual acts on me and forced me to perform sexual acts on him." Robson bluntly added, "Jackson was an amazing talent, but he was a pedophile."
To this day, attorney Mesereau continues to vilify Gavin as a dishonest character. Nine years later he still ridicules the only youngster with enough courage to have actually gone to court against an international superstar. Mesereau continues to claim Arvizo's allegations were money-driven.
The fact is the defense lawyers and their teams are the only ones who made money from the Jackson criminal case.
Gavin, now 24, has also endured years of being hounded by paparazzi and tormented by a worldwide legion of die-hard Jackson fanatics who have vowed to kill him, maim him and stalk him for the rest of his life for saying their idol molested him. One of the more vicious fans recently discovered Gavin was about to wed a preacher's daughter and urged others to inundate the church with menacing phone calls about Gavin's integrity.
Gavin steadfastly refuses to speak up for himself, believing a man's actions speak for themselves. So let me tell you a little bit about him.
Gavin worked two or three jobs at a time (in restaurants and landscaping) to put himself though community college. Through sheer perseverance he won partial scholarships to attend prestigious Emory University. He double-majored in history and philosophy, made the honor roll, was president of the student union and he still found time to volunteer frequently at his church.
Gavin doesn't drink, use tobacco, drugs or foul language. He is working as a paralegal in a law firm, preparing to take the L-SAT and is applying to more than a dozen law schools. His dream is to go to Harvard.
Most telling about the character of Gavin Arvizo? He has never accepted any of the outstanding six-figure offers to sell his story. Newspapers and television shows continually dangle tempting deals, but Gavin is adamant that the passage of time will best tell his story. He says he knows the truth and believes it will be revealed to the doubters of the world when the time is right.
As I sat in church and watched this resilient young man joyfully take a wife, I thought back to all his trials and tribulations. Poverty, violence, near-fatal cancer, his punishing and unsatisfying ride through the justice system. Amazing.
At the reception, the unknowing DJ played "The Way You Make Me Feel" by Jackson. I caught Gavin's eye as he sat on the dais with his bride, Shelby. He just smiled, grandly shrugged his shoulders and went back to living his life as anonymously as possible.
— Diane Dimond is the author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.