One brave waitress followed her instincts a couple years ago, and in doing so, she likely saved a young boy’s life.

On New Year’s Day 2021, a family of four entered the Mrs. Potato Restaurant in Orlando, Florida. However, waitress Flaviane Carvalho immediately sensed that something about the family wasn’t right. While the mother, stepfather, and younger sister were all eating, the young boy was not. He was also quiet and not interacting much with the others. Upon closer inspection, Carvalho saw that he was covered in bruises.

Carvalho then quickly scribbled a quick note which read, “Do you need help? OK.” She flashed the note to the boy once, careful not to catch the notice of the stepfather. At first, the boy gestured that he was fine, but Carvalho still wasn’t satisfied, so she showed him the note again. This time, he nodded his head “yes.”

Though Carvalho was also a manager at the restaurant, she consulted the manager on duty that day to see how she should proceed. The two agreed that she should call police.

She may have contacted law enforcement just in time. When police arrived and began conducting an investigation, they discovered that the 11-year-old boy was 20 pounds underweight and had been severely mistreated by his stepfather, Timothy Lee Wilson, and his mother, Kristen Swann, who witnessed the abuse and did nothing.

Reports say that Wilson, 36, had deprived the boy of food and water “for days at a time,” forced him to perform “military-style exercises,” and beat him when he didn’t perform the tasks as expected. Wilson also hung the boy upside down from a door frame and chained him to a dolly on Christmas.

“We probably would’ve been talking about a potential homicide investigation,” said Orlando Rolón, who was then the Orlando chief of police, “if [Carvalho] had not intervened when she did.”

In June, a jury convicted Wilson of 10 charges, including false imprisonment of a child, aggravated child abuse with a weapon, and child neglect, and on Friday, the judge assigned to the case issued the harshest possible sentence.

“You have utterly failed, not only in the role of parent, but simply in the role of human being,” Judge Wayne C. Wooten told Wilson. “For those reasons, I’m going to impose the sentence that the law allows me to impose, although candidly, in many ways, I feel like it is short of what you thoroughly and richly deserve.”

Wilson will serve a life sentence plus 30 years. His wife, Swann, has been convicted of child neglect and will be sentenced on September 16.

Carvalho is grateful that justice has been served and that the boy is now living a much fuller and happier life. “I was used like a tool from God to help him,” she told reporters.

The boy has reportedly been reunited with his biological father. There is no evidence that his 4-year-old half-sister had been abused.

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