State child fatality records indicate the Colorado Department of Human Services at some point in the past three years likely was involved with the family of the 7-year-old boy whose dead body was found in a Denver storage unit last month.
All child fatalities that are the result of suspected abuse or neglect are required to be reported to the state human services department within 24 hours. The last death reported in 2018 was listed as a 7-year-old boy who was living with family, according to a database on the human services department’s website.
The unnamed boy’s death was reported on Dec. 24, one day after Denver police discovered 7-year-old Caden McWilliams’ body in a self-storage unit in southeast Denver.
The database shows the 7-year-old’s family had been involved with a county human services department within the past three years. An investigation into whether the death was a result of abuse or neglect and how the family’s previous case was handled is pending.
It is unknown what type of involvement or which county’s human services department had contact with the family, and who in the family was the recipient of services.
Human services officials would not confirm whether the 7-year-old listed on the database was Caden.
Denver police estimate that Caden had been dead since May when his body was found in a self-storage garage at 5005 E. Evans Ave. in southeast Denver, according to 2018 homicide data provided to The Denver Post through an open records request.
The Denver medical examiner said an autopsy had been performed but the cause of death remains under investigation.
The boy’s mother, Elisha Pankey, was arrested Wednesday in connection with her son’s death. Pankey, who also goes by Elisha McWilliams, is being held for investigation of child abuse resulting in death.
Pankey has another child, who has been placed in protective custody.
Carolyn Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, said police had referred the case to her office but she could not discuss it further.
The search for the boy apparently began on Dec. 21, but authorities have not said who reported him missing.
Elisha Pankey was arrested Dec. 22 on suspicion of possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia after an Aurora police officer, who was involved in the search for her son, found heroin in a pill bottle in a hotel room where she had been staying, an arrest affidavit said.
Police also arrested Leland Pankey, who has been in a relationship with Elisha Pankey for at least three years, on Dec. 21 on a warrant for a 2017 domestic violence charge. He allegedly strangled Elisha Pankey until she became unconscious, according to the arrest affidavit.
Leland Pankey did not speak when he appeared in court Friday morning for a second advisement on the second-degree assault charge. He is being held on a $25,000 bond. Leland Pankey has not been charged in connection with Caden’s death.
Julie Smith, a spokeswoman for Denver Human Services, could not comment on any specific cases her office might be involved in. State law prohibits human services departments from disclosing clients, she said in an email.
“This is an incredibly tragic story and our full hearts go out to all of those who knew Caden,” Smith said. “This crime is shocking and disturbing and we are fully supportive of the work of our law enforcement partners.”
Yvonne Yeon, a spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County Human Services, also would not say whether her department had been involved with the family.
“Given light of (the) situation, it’s really important for people to understand the importance of child abuse and neglect hotlines,” Yeon said. “If there’s (a) message to (the) public, it’s taking this opportunity to understand there are things the community can do.”
Denver police have not said who reported the child missing or what led them to the storage unit. The Aurora Police Department was the first department to begin looking for the child. That department has referred all questions about the case to Denver police.
Denver police did not return a phone call Friday.
Caden’s story leaves questions about how a 7-year-old child could be dead for seven months without anyone reporting him missing.
The boy had been a student at Ellis Elementary School in Denver during the 2017-2018 school year. The school released a statement Thursday saying the boy was sweet, performed well in academics and was a model student.
Will Jones, a Denver Public Schoold spokesman, would not comment on when Caden stopped attending Ellis or whether he was enrolled last fall.
New Denver Superintendent Susan Cordova said in a statement, “This terrible loss is being felt throughout our entire school district and community.”
Grief counselors will be available for Ellis teachers and students once they return from winter break next week.
“Our thoughts are with Caden’s family,” Cordova said.
This situation should be viewed as a call to action, said Becky Miller Updike, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center.
“It’s encouraging us as a community to ‘see something, say something,’ ” Updike said. “It’s such a cliche, but I’m not sure how comfortable people are with reporting. We need to create a climate were people are comfortable doing it.”
People who suspect child neglect or abuse are encouraged to call the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-844-CO-4-KIDS. More information can be found at co4kids.org.
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