MADISON COUNTY, Ind. -- The family of Ryder Stephen should be celebrating his 2nd birthday. Instead they're grieving his loss.
"Ryder was an amazing little boy, he had a lot of good spirit," his grandmother, Heather Elbert, said.
The toddler died after he was found unresponsive in an Elwood home. Officials said the preliminary cause of death appears to blunt force trauma. His mother, Alyson Stephen, was arrested for neglect of a dependent resulting in death and his stepfather, Jacob Wootton, was charged with neglect of a dependent, deprives dependent of necessary support among other charges.
"I never thought that it would come to where we are today. Never thought that he would harm a child," Elbert, Alyson Stephen's mother, said.
According to court documents, Stephen left the child in the care of Wootton when she left for work. He told police he believed the child fell and hit his head in the bathtub when he went to check on the other kids. He said he tried CPR and beat him on the face when he stopped breathing. But police were told during the autopsy the bruising on the toddler was not consistent with falling.
"There was a lot of other people that dropped the ball, too, this could have been prevented," Elbert said.
Court documents show there was a no contact order between Wootton and Stephen, each having been charged with domestic battery before. A probable cause affidavit also states police were dispatched to the home and DCS contacted multiple times. In one police dispatch, Wootton was accused of carrying an ax around the house. During a DCS visit to the house, Stepehn said Wootton hit one of the children in the head with a toy gun and pushed her against the wall and hit her. DCS was contacted for an assessment when Wootton was accused of kicking the crib the toddler was in causing a screw to come out. DCS was also contacted when a child was found walking around for 30 minutes outside of the house.
"Do I think she was scared of him? Absolutely. I think she's very scared of him and I think that's probably why she kept going back to him," Elbert said.
Elbert said Stephen's other children were placed with relatives, however one was put in foster care and Elbert is trying to gain placement of that child.
But Ryder's death is far from the first death to come across the Madison County prosecutor's death. Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said five kids age two and younger with ties to Madison County have died this year from abuse, neglect or overdose.
"On a number of those occasions I don't think the right decision has been made by the people in place to make those decisions and I hope that they'll be ever vigilant in trying to protect these children that are not being protected by their parents or the adults in their family," Cummings said during an October interview.
Thursday, Cummings confirmed personnel changes had been made in DCS in Madison County within the past 24 hours.
"Ask more questions, you know. If you're not sure ask before it's too late, at least tell someone that you love them and you care about them," Elbert said.
Ryder's grandma says she will make sure he is always celebrated.