Horrific, heart-wrenching, despicable and incredibly violent.

These were just a few of the words law enforcement and medical personnel used to describe the circumstances surrounding the death of 6-year-old Norlin Cruz at the hands of his mother, Reyna Elizabeth Flores-Rosales, through child abuse.

“I’ve been a public prosecutor for over 28 years and, unfortunately in the work that we do, we see some really terrible and horrific things,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said. “This was one of those cases that just went into a different category by itself.”

In sharp contrast to how the case was described, the work of Sandy police detective Cori Biggs — who was the lead detective on the case — was called dogged, tenacious and “above and beyond” her duty.

Biggs on Thursday was honored with the Community Justice Award for her tireless work, spanning more than three years, on the case involving Norlin's death.

Gill noted that his office asked Gibbs for more than 20 different follow-up requests to gather additional information and evidence, which eventually led to the successful prosecution of Norlin's mother.

“I want to present this (award) to detective Cori Biggs for the incredible professionalism, incredible compassion — the incredible work that you did and the sacrifices that you made on behalf of not only Norlin, but working with our team,” Gill said.

Sandy Police Detective Cori Biggs listens to Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill before he presented her with the Community Justice Award at the District Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 22, 2023. Biggs was honored for her work in investigating the child abuse homicide case resulting from 6-year-old Norlin Cruz’s death. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Background

Norlin died in the care of doctors in February 2019 after his mother sought medical care when he was unresponsive. Doctors found over 99 injuries on his body, some of which videos and messages showed were from his mother's attempts to potty train him.

Doctors testified during the subsequent trial that those injuries occurred over a long period of time — including a massive burn, broken bones, marks that could result from being strangled, abrasions and significant head trauma that ultimately caused his death.

Third District Judge Douglas Hogan last month ordered Flores-Rosales to serve at least seven years and up to life in prison for the charges for which a jury found her guilty. "I haven't seen systematic abuse like this," the judge said.

For reckless child abuse homicide, a first-degree felony, Flores-Rosales was sentenced to a term of five years and life in prison; for two counts of intentional child abuse, a second-degree felony, she was ordered to spend terms of one and 15 years in prison; and for reckless child abuse, a third-degree felony, she was sentenced to a term of zero to five years in prison. Hogan ordered the sentences to be served consecutively.

“What made this really horrific is that there was a young child ... who wanted nothing more than to be loved (who) was systematically and methodically just tortured,” Gill said.

Remembering Norlin

Before his death, Norlin spent time in foster care, temporarily spending time with David Augason and his family.

“Norlin was a rambunctious, energetic, stubborn, friendly, sprightly, playful, bouncy, whirlwind, kind, exhausting, loveable, huggable little boy,” Augason said. “Norlin had a contagious smile.”

Augason said Norlin was always the best-dressed in the house, sported “a tight fade” and he “loved his fancy haircuts.”

While he didn't speak English, Norlin found love and acceptance while in the care of the Augason family. The language barrier, Augason said, didn't matter — as Norlin spoke the language of the playground, food, laughter and playtime.

David Augason, former foster parent of Norlin Cruz, speaks during a press conference at the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
David Augason, former foster parent of Norlin Cruz, speaks during a press conference at the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City on Thursday. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“Norlin was taken too early from this earth,” Augason said. “Norlin may not be here today, but every time his name is said, he sticks around just a little longer. Every time his picture shows up on our slideshow at our house, he sticks around a little longer. Every time we get to talk about him and his brother and the good times we had, he sticks around a little longer.”

Gill said that everyone dies two deaths in this world. The first is physical death and the second is “when we are remembered for the last time by somebody who loves us.”

With this in mind, Gill announced the creation of the Norlin Cruz Child Advocacy Award to be given to someone who fights and advocates for children.

“Through that award, Norlin will never be forgotten and (will) be remembered for the full life that he should've had and would've had,” Gill said.