7-year-old Chandler Grafner starved to death in a closet. He suffered cardiac arrest. His foster parents, Sarah Berry and Jon Phillips, are charged with his murder, but 7NEWS Investigators found disturbing information on what welfare officials knew about the case prior to the little boy's death.
7NEWS Investigator John Ferrugia uncovers, what appear to be, clear warning signs that Chandler was a child in danger.
"They had a chance to save his life. They had every chance to save that child's life and they didn't. They just didn't," said Chandler's maternal grandmother, Sandra Younger.
Documents held by several agencies and obtained by 7NEWS show that on Jan. 17, 2007, officials at Holm Elementary school made a hotline call to the Denver Department of Human Services.
The call was to report the suspected abuse of Chandler and said he had a "bruised and swollen right ear" and a "mark on his neck."
According to the report, Chandler told his teacher, "Dad kept slapping my ear in the shower. He smacked me in the neck and kept putting me in the water."
Sources close to the investigation say it wasn't until Jan. 19 that a case worker from Denver attempted to contact Chandler, but his foster parents kept him out of school.
On the same day, the social worker and police went to the apartment of Jon Phillips and Sarah Berry, but found no one at home.
On Saturday Jan. 20, 3 days after the initial report, police finally found Chandler at home. Multiple sources say a report confirms the officer found the child's ear badly bruised, scratches on his face, and a bump on his head.
Chandler initially told the officer that his foster father had hit him, but then said he had fallen in the bathtub.
"I believe Sarah and Jon threatened him and terrified him into changing his story," said Younger.
7NEWS took the results of our investigation to Jeff Koy, a director at the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center.
He says Denver officials should have seen a red flag when Chandler changed the story he had told to a teacher and police.
Koy said, "Both of these people carried with them the air of authority, respect and trust. With those individuals he told the same story, that his father had beaten him in the head and there were physical injuries consistent with that."
On Jan. 23, sources say case workers interviewed school staff and learned that Chandler had been sent to school in the December snow with one shoe and no coat. They also learned that Chandler told his teachers that his parents were angry and that he could not talk with [his teachers] anymore.
"It is starting to paint a pretty clear picture of a child that is being abused in the home and a child and family that merit some level of intervention greater than an investigation," said Koy.
After a case worker visit to the home and a check of Chandler's medical records, the little boy is allowed to remain in the home and the case is closed.
Younger told 7NEWS, "We've got two different departments of human services in two different counties that both had every chance to save that child's life and they both failed him."
Three months later, on April 17, Denver Human Services received another hotline call from Holm Elementary about Chandler.
The report said, "Child has not been seen in school since March 9, 2007" and "Staff called home many times. Dad reported there were 'family problems.'"
The report then refers to the January incident reading, "Child said he was hit in ear. Visible bruises on ear. Child did not come to school much after that. Have not heard back from DDHS."
"If you're a case worker or an official at the Denver Department of Human Services and you see this in April, what should have been done?" Ferrugia asked Koy.
"Minimally the system should have responded. At a minimum that should have included laying eyes on the child," Koy answered.
Sources close to the investigation confirm that did not happen. There is no state requirement that children attend kindergarten so the call and the complaint was not accepted for assessment by the department.
Chandler Grafner was doomed.
It was Jefferson County Human Services that placed the 7-year-old with Phillips and Berry, who are now accused in Chandler's death.
Denver Human Services responded to a case that moved into its jurisdiction and neither Denver or Jefferson County officials killed the little boy, but could case workers have done something to prevent it?
An official with Denver Human Services told 7NEWS, a court order prevents her from discussing the case, but she did not dispute the information we presented.
She did say 7NEWS does not have all the information available and, "What all the facts will show is very different that what you are running. The outcome and conclusions will be different."
There are two ongoing independent investigations in this case. The first, by the state and the second is a criminal investigation by the Denver district attorney's office.
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