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Before KC boy died at high-rise, neighbors reported abuse to police, state officials

Kelsey Grzib says she once found Grayson O’Connor, the 5-year-old neighbor boy she watched grow up in her Kansas City high-rise building, alone at a bus stop.

He was filthy, Grzib recalled, and had a bruise on his face. She says she saw his mother walking “in the opposite direction.”

Grzib called the police, she said, and sat Grayson on her lap. Officers soon arrived and stopped his mom down the block, she said.

“They talked to her for like an hour on the corner,” Grzib, 35, a mother to an 11-year-old daughter, told The Star during a recent interview. “They eventually realized that he couldn’t go with her. So, I volunteered for him to come to my house.”

That was the beginning of a four-day stint in late March when Grzib says Grayson stayed at her home until a social worker came and returned him to his mother — despite what she described as obvious signs of neglect and abuse.

Eight months later, on Nov. 27, Kansas City police opened a suspicious death investigation after Grayson’s body was discovered in the dead-end alley behind the building where he and his mother lived on the 17th floor.

Authorities have yet to say how Grayson died, but police have confirmed his body fell from an open window.

A child was found dead in an alley near 10th Street and Grand Boulevard on Monday in downtown Kansas City. Police say the child died when they fell from a window of the building at the center of the photo.
A child was found dead in an alley near 10th Street and Grand Boulevard on Monday in downtown Kansas City. Police say the child died when they fell from a window of the building at the center of the photo.

Little else has been disclosed by police aside from detectives’ belief that Grayson died as a result of child endangerment or neglect or possibly homicide. His mother, whom The Star is not naming as she has not been charged with a crime, is the subject of the police investigation.

Efforts by The Star to reach Grayson’s mother and his maternal grandmother have been unsuccessful. No one had been charged in connection with the boy’s death as of Wednesday.

Meanwhile, several neighbors who live in the building, including Grzib, told The Star there were serious concerns about the 5-year-old’s well-being. Cellphone videos filmed by one neighbor and shared with The Star captured audio of her screaming at the child, as he sobs, dating back to more than a year ago, which neighbors described as a common occurrence.

Neighbors say the household was often low on food and Grayson was frequently unsupervised — sometimes seen wandering the building or heard banging on the door of his apartment when he was left by himself. They say Missouri’s Department of Social Services was aware of problems at his home.

Along with meeting social workers for Grayson in person, Grzib said she called social services four times herself, and said others reported concerns via Missouri’s Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline.

A source told The Star other hotline calls had been made about the boy within the past two years after signs of abuse and neglect.

The Star requested records from the Department of Social Services concerning Grayson last week. But the state agency has not acknowledged providing services to the boy at any point or answered any of The Star’s questions, saying the earliest such records could become available is April 10.

Individual child welfare cases are often kept secret. Under Missouri law, the state agency’s director may publicly release information when a child dies while receiving state care.

The Star also requested records from Kansas City police listing calls for service at the Grand Boulevard Lofts for a period beginning in 2017. Since February 2018, the records show eight times when police were called to the specific apartment where Grayson and his mother were living, including six disturbances, a residence check and a welfare check for an emotionally disturbed person.

Many of the other calls provided in the records request only list the apartment building as an address and do not contain apartment numbers. Additionally, calls that fall outside the scope of required disclosure under Missouri’s Sunshine Law and “involve law enforcement sensitive information” were not included in the list provided to The Star.

Meanwhile, Grzib said she had feared something would happen to Grayson. She thought he might starve.

But in the aftermath of his death — which has rattled neighbors and others across Kansas City — Grzib is among those questioning how the 5-year-old boy could die in such a horrific way.

She says she and some neighbors who were closest to Grayson feel as though they did not do enough to protect the boy, and are plagued by grief and guilt.

“That’s kind of where the guilt is from all of us,” she said. “It’s just like, we knew this would happen.”

‘I should have kidnapped him’

After the incident at the bus stop in March, Grzib says she was surprised that police officers allowed her to take Grayson.

She also remembers receiving troubling instructions that day.

“They told me: ‘In the morning, bring him back early, because she might not remember what happened. So, she might call and report him missing,’” Grzib said.

She brought him upstairs and gave him a bath. She says she quickly noticed bruises on his body, including a large lump on his foot and a mark on his cheek.

She pondered the directive to bring Grayson home. But she decided she could not.

“I said, ‘Hell no,’” Grzib recalled.

Instead, she said she called someone with knowledge of the state’s child welfare system and then a social worker. She said someone came over the next day to inspect both her home and Grayson’s apartment.

“She checked on the (Grayson’s) apartment to see if it was liveable. And she’s like, ‘No, he cannot go up there. They have no food. It’s a mess. They have (expletive) all over the walls. She told me they had (markings) from the hip down on every surface, and he could not go there,” Grzib said.

While staying at her apartment, Grzib said Grayson played with her daughter’s toys and slept in Grzib’s bed. Over that time, as she tried to ease out information, she says Grayson told her the mark on his cheek came from being hit by his mother with a jar of jelly.

Grayson O’Connor, 5, is pictured in a photograph taken by neighor Kelsey Grzib, 35, who says she found Grayson abandoned at a bus stop by his mother and took him under her care temporarily. Grayson was found dead in an alley behind the Grand Boulevard Lofts in downtown Kansas City, where he and his mother lived on the 17th floor. Police have said his body fell from an open window.

A few days later, Grzib said another social worker specifically assigned to Grayson came to her apartment.

She says she showed her the bruises and described where they came from. But at the end of it, Grzib said, she was told Grayson had to go back home to his mother.

For some reason, Grzib said, she was told they would not be doing a forensic interview with Grayson and that removing any child from a home was “so hard” to do.

She “saw all these injuries in person and did nothing,” Grzib said.

“I want her to pay. I want whoever the other lady (social worker) was to pay. It’s like I don’t understand how this many people (knew).”

All the while, according to Grzib, Grayson’s mother was apparently unaware that Grayson was staying on another floor in the building.

Since then, Grzib says Grayson’s hair had continued to grow out “real long.” One of the last times she saw him, Grzib said she saw what looked like a fresh bruise on his head.

“I should have never gave him f*****g back to her,” Grzib said, reflecting on her time looking after Grayson in March. “I should have just been like, ‘You don’t deserve your kid. Have the police come to my house.’

“I should have just kidnapped him.”

Sad for Grayson

Around the start of COVID-19, right after Derrae Davis, 29, moved from the 3rd floor to the 17th, she heard from building management that she was getting a lot of noise complaints.

She told them she had a new TV, but that wasn’t it. Then she told him who she believed was the likeliest source.

“I said, ‘It’s the white girl down the hall. You need to investigate that.’ And he said ‘OK, I have been hearing stories, rumors about her, I’m gonna look into it’ and everything like that.

But it happened from that entire time up until now,” Davis said.

Yelling from the apartment was frequent, Davis said. Sometimes as she passed by their door Davis would use her cellphone to record the audio from the hallway.

Videos shared with The Star included instances of a woman and child, identified by neighbors as Grayson and his mother, loudly yelling inside the apartment.

In one, taken in July 2022 when Grayson was 4 years old, she is screaming about “playing with your poop” as a child wails and responds several times with: “I’m sorry, mommy.” Loud cracks can be heard, followed by the wails of a child.

She appears to call the him “dumbass” and “f***ing idiot,” saying “I don’t give a f***” and “I will let go of you.”

That incident was the worst in Davis’ memory. After filming the video, Davis said she spoke with mandated reporters who assured her they would be making calls to the proper authorities. She gave them as much information she could, including Grayson’s name and the full address with the apartment number.

“It would be so frequent, but also just so random,” Davis said of the episodes, which she described as verbal abuse. “Like, you would just be walking out of your apartment, middle of the day, late at night. It didn’t matter. She would just be yelling, yelling, yelling.”

Over her years living two doors down, Davis said she never got close with Grayson’s mother or had what amounted to a full conversation. She always forgot her name — until recently.

A memorial was set up for Grayson O’Connor, 5, who was found dead in an alley behind the Grand Boulevard Lofts at 1006 Grand Boulevard in downtown Kansas City on Monday. Police say the boy fell from a window and are investigating as possibilities that he was killed or died as a result of child endangerment.
A memorial was set up for Grayson O’Connor, 5, who was found dead in an alley behind the Grand Boulevard Lofts at 1006 Grand Boulevard in downtown Kansas City on Monday. Police say the boy fell from a window and are investigating as possibilities that he was killed or died as a result of child endangerment.

Davis knew Grayson, though, she said, as he was “always eager to talk to me” and “talk to anybody.”

“He was very friendly. And you could tell, the more he would say she would kind of hush him and tell him to be quiet and stop talking and things like that, which I always thought was weird,” Davis said.

There were other behaviors Davis found strange.

In September, Davis says Kansas City police officers were called to the apartment and were involved in a tussle with a vagrant who was then forcefully removed from the building.

It happened in the hallway right outside Davis’ apartment. She said the man had been visiting Grayson’s home.

Davis also recalled a time when Grayson’s mother randomly knocked on her door asking for marijuana or money to buy some. And there was another occasion when she wanted to thank Davis for helping her out with her son the night before.

“She was trying to find the person that was helping her. And I was like ‘No, I never helped you with your son, but if you need help, you can ask me. I’m literally right down the hall,’” Davis said.

On the days when Davis could hear the yelling in their apartment, she said she always felt sad for Grayson. And she now wishes she had done more to help him.

“I didn’t get into her business, per se, and I should have been in her business,” Davis said.

“I should have gotten more involved, but I didn’t get involved,” she added. “And that part makes me sad. I would tell the property manager all the time about her behavior and how she was talking to him. But I just wish that I would have got in there more.”

Another resident of the 17th floor is 62-year-old Maurice Hopson Jr., who has lived in the building for more than two years.

Hopson said it was common to hear both Grayson and his mother in their apartment yelling and crying. He never saw signs of physical abuse, he said, but he heard yelling that was often “above normal.”

“Never heard any banging, any cabinet slamming, any furniture being turned upside down. Wasn’t none of that. But it was a lot of cussing,” Hopson said. “You know, ‘Sit your ass down, get the F over here,’ a bunch of that.”

“Which, young parents. I mean, I never judge anybody’s parenting skills. But there’s a certain way to talk to children.”

Hopson says he largely keeps to himself and never really had a long conversation with Grayson’s mother. Mostly it was brief and neighborly interactions.

He never saw relatives or visitors at their apartment, he said.

“I’ve never seen anybody come over there other than a couple of caseworkers. That’s it,” Hopson said, saying he recognized them as social service workers by the badges they wore.

Darryl Young, also 62, does not live on the same floor as Grayson but says he came to know him well over the years. He affectionately called him “Little Man,” he said, and would take him out for cheeseburgers at McDonald’s.

There were concerns Young heard of, he said, secondhand from others around the building about neglect. He said he was among those in the building who tried to make sure Grayson stayed fed.

It seemed to Young that Grayson’s mother would bring the boy out to see neighbors when she wanted to get him a meal — something Young says he was always happy to oblige. There were other times where he worried Grayson was being left unattended.

“She would leave that baby upstairs. She would leave that baby. The baby one day got out, and he was out there in the hallway,” Young said.

A Kansas City police officer walks in an alley near 10th Street and Grand Boulevard where the body of child believed to be under 12-year-old was found dead on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in downtown Kansas City. The police are investigating the incident as a suspicious death.
A Kansas City police officer walks in an alley near 10th Street and Grand Boulevard where the body of child believed to be under 12-year-old was found dead on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in downtown Kansas City. The police are investigating the incident as a suspicious death.

‘Out the window’

On Nov. 27, around 11:30 a.m., Kansas City police officers were dispatched to the alleyway southwest of 10th Street and Grand Boulevard.

On the ground was a child, identified as Grayson, suffering from “apparent head trauma.” Officers noticed there was an open window above the place where the boy was found, a Kansas City detective noted in an affidavit seeking a search warrant last week.

Police officers spoke with an apartment manager and went to the 17th floor of the building. They knocked on the door and the voice of a woman was heard on the other side, calling for help.

After the door was unlocked, officers and detectives entered and found Grayson’s mother on the floor underneath the open window. Asked where her son was, she uttered “Out the window,” the affidavit says.

She was taken to a hospital for an unspecified reason. Court records show a search warrant was served at the apartment that 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 remained unknown Wednesday.

As Kansas City police investigate Grayson’s death, the Grand Boulevard Lofts and other local community members continue to reel from the tragedy.

Over the past week, a memorial — complete with candles, stuffed animals, letters and toy fire trucks — has grown in the alley marking the spot where Grayson was found dead.

As mourners gathered and comforted one another Saturday, near where the child’s body was found, one neighbor, Shakaela Bruce, 28, said a sense of guilt permeates the hearts of those who remember seeing a “cheerful” boy from the 17th floor.

“The entire building is shaken,” Bruce said.

Gatherers listen as members of the community give remarks on the tragic death of Grayson, in the alley of Grand Loft Apartments, located at 1006 Grand Blvd.
Gatherers listen as members of the community give remarks on the tragic death of Grayson, in the alley of Grand Loft Apartments, located at 1006 Grand Blvd.

The Star’s Laura Bauer and Samantha Latson contributed to this report.