In the dead-end alley behind the Grand Boulevard Lofts in downtown Kansas City sits a makeshift memorial with candles and toys.
It marks the place where a child was found dead Monday after his small body apparently fell almost 17 stories and landed near a row of dumpsters southwest of 10th Street and Grand Boulevard. The boy, identified by police late Wednesday as 5-year-old Grayson O’Connor, was remembered by neighbors as one looked after by the community.
“It’s just a low blow to everybody,” said Darryl Young, 62, who has lived in the building for four years and described himself as a father figure to Grayson. “It’s hard to believe that he’s gone.”
Kansas City police are investigating the case as a suspicious death. As of Wednesday, the mother of the child was considered “the subject of interest” by police, though the exact circumstances surrounding his death remained unclear.
“It is believed the child fell from the apartment window, the means of how that happened is still under investigation,” Capt. Corey Carlisle, a KCPD spokesman, said in a statement late Wednesday.
Detectives were considering as possibilities, Carlisle said, that the boy had been killed or died as a result of child endangerment or neglect.
No criminal charges had been filed in the case as of Wednesday afternoon. The Star is not naming the boy’s mother as she has not been charged with a crime.
She was taken to the hospital Monday and has not been seen at the apartment building since by neighbors who spoke with The Star.
Neighbors told The Star on Wednesday there had been concerns about the care provided by his mother, claiming there had been some signs of abuse and neglect.
The neighbors left food at their apartment door for them to eat. They said Grayson sometimes wandered the halls alone or was left by himself in the apartment, and several people had called family services concerned about his welfare.
A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Social Services did not immediately respond to questions from The Star on Wednesday.
Maurice Hopson Jr., 62, said the boy was well known in the building by neighbors. He said he lives on the same floor and has heard signs of what sounded like abuse in the past.
“Everybody, we took care of this child and the momma. I’m talking about 17 floors of community. But it just got missed,” Hopson said, adding: “Sweetest little kid you ever wanted to meet. This kid was an angel.”
The night before the boy died, around 10 p.m., Hopson said his daughter overheard what sounded like abuse coming from the apartment. He said he never saw bruises on the boy but knows family services had been called at points in the past by many concerned neighbors.
“The mom had mental issues. Everybody knew this. You know, this is a Catch 22 situation. Damned if you, do damned if you don’t. You take the child, you don’t take your child? Does the momma get a certain amount of help? Does she not? Did we do everything we could?
None of that matters anymore,” Hopson said.
Around 11:30 a.m. Monday, Kansas City police officers were dispatched to the Grand Boulevard Lofts at 1006 Grand Avenue on a medical call. Officers found the child suffering from “apparent head trauma” in the alley. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police learned there was an open window on the 17th floor of the building and went inside to investigate. An apartment manager told police a woman and her son lived there and police knocked on the door.
The voice of a woman was heard on the other side of the door. She said “she needed help,” a Kansas City detective wrote in a probable cause statement in requesting the search warrant.
Using keys provided by the building manager, the officers unlocked the door and found the woman “on the floor beneath an open window.”
She was asked where her son was, and, according to the affidavit, uttered a reply: “Out the window.”
She was taken to a hospital for an unspecified reason.
Court records show the search warrant was served at the apartment on Monday afternoon. The search warrant application asked for a court order to look for blood, bloody clothing, fingerprints and trace evidence.
A property inventory receipt for the apartment lists the collection of photographs, DNA swabs, latent fingerprints and Hemastix, which is used by forensics investigators to detect the presence of blood. Specific details of what Kansas City police discovered inside were not known Wednesday.
Speaking to The Star in the alley at Grayson’s memorial Wednesday evening, Young, the neighbor, said the sudden death has been hard on a tight-knit group of residents who cared about the boy. He said he knew a bunch of people had made calls to report the situation — but nothing ever came of it.
“When she couldn’t feed him, she would bring him out. She’d go to some of the pantries. … But most of the time it would be us in the building. And Lord knows if he saw me, he already knew what time it was,” said Young, who recalled taking the boy out for cheeseburgers at McDonald’s and having him over for spaghetti and garlic bread.
Young was home on Monday, recovering from a recent surgery, when he heard a thump come from outside.
He paid little mind to the noise at first. From his apartment, he often hears people rifling through the trash. Then he got a phone call and heard what happened.
“I ran downstairs, saw everybody down there crying. I said, ‘No, it ain’t so,’” said Young, who visited the memorial Wednesday night carrying a candle and a speaker with plans to play a Lionel Richie song in Grayson’s memory.
“He was loved. He was real loved. And it’s a shame, man, that he never got a chance to see this Christmas. Because there was people thinking about coming together. Putting Christmas together, making a Christmas for him.”
The Star’s Laura Bauer contributed to this report.