Social Services Looking Into Death Of Sterling Toddler
DENVER (AP) — A body found beneath a mobile home in a rural Colorado town is believed to be that of a 3-year-old boy who authorities say was placed in the custody of his mother — now charged with his murder — over the objections of his aunt.
Juanita Kinzie, 24, was arrested on charges of first-degree murder after police discovered the body Sunday. She was being held without bond Wednesday at the Logan County jail in northeastern Colorado.
Police found the partially mummified remains after a former boyfriend of Kinzie’s tipped them off to the location. The boyfriend told police that Kinzie had told him that “she made a mistake,” and that the child “was with God,” according to a police affidavit.
Kinzie’s sister and the boy’s aunt, Yolanda Kinzie-Graber, identified the toddler as Caleb Pacheco.
Police said the boy was last seen by family members on Jan. 15, 2011.
Thomas Ward, chief public defender in Sterling who represents Kinzie, asked that people not rush to judgment about Kinzie and let the judicial process work.
Kinzie-Graber told The Denver Post that Kinzie placed the boy in her care around Thanksgiving 2010. In January of last year, Kinzie called her and demanded the boy back, according to Kinzie-Graber. Kinzie-Graber said she opposed doing so because of her sister’s alleged drug use.
Kinzie-Graber said social workers in Logan County told her that she had no right to keep Caleb. They placed the boy in Kinzie’s care on Jan. 15, 2011.
Kinzie-Graber said she lost track of her sister’s whereabouts and that, over the course of the year, she pleaded with social services to find her and Caleb.
“To look back at every time I went to social services, every time I was asking questions — and the biggest thing is the fact that they made me give him back,” Kinzie-Graber said.
A phone number for Kinzie-Graber was disconnected.
The state Department of Human Services said it will examine how social workers handled the case.
Fred Crawford, director of the Logan County Department of Social Services, declined to comment, saying confidentiality laws bar him from speaking about the case.
“We can’t share information on it. I really wish we could,” Crawford said, adding that a major portion of the state’s investigation will become public. “Frankly, I look forward to that.”
The Logan County sheriff’s office opened an investigation into Kinzie’s whereabouts after it learned that Kinzie-Graber had created a Facebook page in her search for her nephew.
The state’s criminal background computer system, which allows officers to instantly check information on traffic stops and other contact, had a note asking law enforcement to ask Kinzie about her son’s whereabouts, according to the arrest affidavit.
It was unclear whether the note was placed there as a result of Kinzie-Graber’s contact with police or by social workers following up on Kinzie-Graber’s concerns.
Liz McDonough, spokeswoman for the state human services department, said social workers are not required to get back in touch with family members who report that a child may be in danger. Social workers are required to tell doctors, teachers, nurses or other concerned professionals, McDonough said.
“If you call and you don’t hear back from social services, you need to be calling law enforcement,” said Becky Miller Updike, the ombudsman with the Office of Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman.
Linda Weinerman, executive director of the Colorado Office of the Child’s Representative, said Logan County social services should have followed up within 24 hours if there was any indication the child was in danger.
At that point, a guardian could have been appointed for the child.
“This never got to that. I can’t tell you who was at fault,” Weinerman said Wednesday.
Kinzie has a court hearing scheduled for Feb. 8.
– By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer
Associated Press writer P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report.
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