ORLANDO, Fla. — For her birthday on Wednesday, Flaviane Carvalho said she received the best gift possible.
It wasn’t the dozens of cards, bouquets of flowers, or the nearly $40,000 raised for her since she made the news last week after police said she helped to save the life of an abused boy with a stealth note inside an Orlando restaurant.
She said the best gift was a note from investigators that morning, letting her know that the boy involved is doing well.
“I’m super glad. I’m happy for him,” Carvalho said. “It just warms my heart that now he has a better chance in life and he’s being treated well and feeling love and being taken care of.”
It’s been a week since her life was turned upside- down. Two weeks earlier, on New Year’s Eve, she noticed that an 11-year-old boy sitting at one of her tables at the Mrs. Potato restaurant on Kirkman Road wasn’t allowed to order any food.
Then she saw marks on the few inches of skin she could see from underneath the boy’s hoodie, glasses and face mask. There was a glimpse of a bruise on his temple. A big scratch between his eyebrows.
Carvalho concocted a plan. She wrote, “Are you OK?” on a piece of paper and held it up to the boy, from where his parents couldn’t see. The boy nodded yes.
She tried again. “Sure?” she wrote this time. Another nod. But the restaurant manager said she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
“Do you need help?” she wrote on her final note. Another nod.
She called police.
The boy’s stepfather, Timothy Wilson II, 34, was arrested on multiple counts of third-degree child abuse. His mother, Kristen Swann, was also arrested, facing charges of child neglect.
Wilson remains in custody at the Orange County Jail. Swann bonded out of jail on Monday.
Investigators said when questioned, the boy detailed the torturous treatment he had endured since Christmas. They said if the abuse hadn’t been stopped soon, the boy likely would have died.
Carvalho recounted the story to a room of reporters last week. Since then, the news has gone viral, gaining attention across the country and globe. She said she’s done interviews every day since, using her story as an example of “if you see something, say something.”
“I wish the whole story will make people be more aware, to look around themselves. To look into the community, to their neighbors and maybe have the opportunity to change a life too,” she said.
Carvalho said she hopes she will be able to keep in touch with the boy as much as she can.
“I plan to be in touch him if I can. To me it’s like he was born on my heart that night, so I really like to track his life and always at least knowing how it’s going and being in touch with him for the rest of my life,” she said.
The owner of Mrs. Potato, Rafaela Cabede, said the day Carvalho shared her story they had to put the restaurant’s phone on silent because it wouldn’t stop ringing with people wanting to thank Carvalho for her heroism.
Since then, Cabede said they’ve started assigning someone whose only job during the day is to field phone calls.
Cabede said Carvalho’s shifts at the restaurants are now more like meet-and-greets. Guests come in wanting to speak with her bringing flowers, teddy bears and money.
“People want to hug her,” Cabede said. They get emotional. I don’t even go to the mailbox anymore. I tell her, it’s all for her.”
Her social media has also blown up with well wishes, including a message from artist Sean McHugh from Kentucky. He drew Carhalho dressed as “Wonder Woman” holding her now-famous sign. Mentioning it brings a smile to Carvalho’s face. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is so cute!’ I love it.”
After fielding dozens of calls about how to donate to Carvalho, and people showing up with checks written in her name, Cabede decided to start a GoFundMe to give people a single place to send money.
She said the website made her set a fundraising goal. She chose $10,000, which seemed far-fetched.
Within 24 hours they’d doubled the goal. Now, less than a week later, they’re at nearly $40,000.
“It’s crazy,” Carvalho said. “I didn’t expect any of this at all in my whole life.”
She said she plans to use the money to get her finances in order and take a relaxing weekend trip with her family. Then she wants to use the money to start a foundation to help encourage the community to reach out in cases where they feel something may be wrong.
“I just want to try to use everything, the whole story to try to help more people,” she said.
You never know, she said, it may save a life.