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Family questions why more wasn't done when boy missed 60 days of school

On June 3, 2022, 8-year-old Dametrious Wilson was found dead. His great-aunt Susan Baffour was charged with his murder.

DENVER — An 8-year-old boy who was beaten to death in June missed 60 days of school in the year before he died, according to attendance records reviewed by 9NEWS.

On June 3, Denver Police responded to an apartment for a call about a child who was unresponsive. That child 8-year-old Dametrious Wilson died from his injuries, and since his death, 9NEWS has been looking into the circumstances.

That morning, Susan Baffour, Dametrious' great-aunt called 911 to report that the boy was not breathing. Police responded to their apartment in the 1900 block of Ulster Street around 8:20 a.m.

Baffour told police she spanked Dametrious the night before, an arrest affidavit from Denver Police says. She's since been arrested and faces charges of first-degree murder and child abuse in connection to his death. She appeared in court on Dec. 9 for an arrangement hearing, but it was delayed until February due to her attorneys leaving the public defender's office. Baffour's new counsel said they needed time to get up to speed on the case.

ORIGINAL STORY: Denver Police investigating death of 8-year-old; relative arrested

For months 9NEWS has been working to learn if something could have been done to prevent the death of this little boy. School records show there were signs of potential issues.

Credit: Anna Hewson, 9News

"Every day he would come running in through the little fence and he would say 'Ms. Gibson, Hi.' and 'did you miss me' if he had been gone for a few days,” said Ashley Elementary second grade teacher, Reed Gibson.

When kids are missing Gibson always notices. Dametrious was often absent from her second-grade class last year.

"He never ever said anything. Always just so happy, that huge grin on his face. I wish I had seen through that to be able to know that something was going on. I just wish that I was able to hug him more, give him more love, knowing that he clearly did not get a lot of that at home,” Gibson said.

Credit: 9NEWS
Reed Gibson's classroom at Ashley Elementary

Dametrious' family obtained his attendance records from the 2021/22 school year at Ashley Elementary. At that point, he was under the care of his great-aunt Susan Baffour who is now charged with his murder.

That school year, Dametrious and his older sister Noelle missed 60 days.

“That's half of school,” said Dametrious’ Aunt, Candance White.

White said she was outraged by the fact someone the family trusted kept the children home on a regular occurrence. She said they absolutely loved school.

"Missed 60 days," said Dametious’ Father, Anthony Wilson. "Why didn't you call or send somebody to the house to see what was wrong with the kids?"

Credit: Candance White
Dametrious Wilson and Noelle White

White, Wilson and the rest of the family had been isolated from the kids who were in the custody of Baffour. She was granted parental rights in late 2017 after the kids were removed from their mother's care.

The family says they were unaware of their school absences. The last time White saw Dametrious and Noelle was for Noelle’s 10th birthday in February 2021.

"My question is it was OK for them to be sick four out of five days a week on multiple weeks, nobody thought...,” White said. "I was talking to somebody and they said well, COVID. COVID you're out 10 days. Not 10 days every month. But it was happening every month."

Credit: 9News
Candance White speaks with 9NEWS reporter Darius Johnson.

The state of Colorado has an attendance law that every district follows regarding what qualifies as truant.

"There's a couple of things that are defined in statute, the ones that are kind of particular, compulsory school attendance,” said Colorado Department of Education, Turnaround Program manager Johann Liljengren.

Districts can, however, make their policies more strict if they feel those changes will better protect their students.

“A lot of those are built around this idea that districts are creating attendance policies to support students and families within their district,” Liljengren said.

Within Denver Public Schools an excused absence requires approval by the parent, guardian, or school. You can simply call and excuse your child from class.

RELATED: 'You lose a lot of hope in the system':Teacher of 8-year-old boy beaten to death says she tried to intervene

Baffour did that 52 times for Dametrious and his older sister Noelle during the 2021/22 school year. Her reasons ranged from illness, to injury, to family business, and in some cases, there was no excuse, according to the records reviewed by 9NEWS.

"I asked someone like no truancy ticket, no visits, no calling just to double check they're sick and there was no answer. Not sure why that wasn't happening, but there was no answer,” White said.

Just eight of their absences were unexcused. The threshold for truancy is four unexcused absences per month or 10 per year.

"Truancy is just an unexcused absence,” Liljengren said.

Because his absences were mostly excused Dametrious was considered chronically absent, which is defined by the state as missing 10% or more of school days. During the last school year, 43% of DPS students, including Dametrious, fell into that category. He missed 37% of school days during that school year.

"They come to your house and wonder what’s going on. They didn't do that. Sixty days of school,” Wilson said.

We reached out to Denver Public Schools to ask if it was too easy for kids like Dametrious to be missing from school for long periods of time by having an excused absence.

The district said in part “it is constantly evaluating and revising our guidance, protocols, and practices around attendance to better address when a student is chronically absent.”

Watch the previous story below.

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected call the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 844-CO-4Kids. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, every day.

“I think it was very eye-opening for us,” Gibson said.

Leaders at Ashley Elementary aren’t waiting for the district to put out new policies.

"Now after three absences whether we know if they are excused or not. We as the teacher contact the parent, let them know their child has been absent. And it’s important that they come to school,” Gibson said. “And then after that our admin and attendance team will continue to call and set up a meeting if they are still not showing up to school."

They’re hoping these extra steps will identify when a kid is missing before it's too late.

"Just to make sure that we don't have something like this happen again. I think it was very eye-opening for us and to just make sure that we can do our part to keep our kids in school and safe,” Gibson said.

DPS Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero provided the following statement regarding Dametrious' death.

This past summer’s death of Dametrious Wilson hurts me to my core. I am heartbroken, both as the leader of Denver Public Schools and as a father. Knowing that a trusted family member is charged with the murder of this 8-year-old boy is unfathomable to me. This tragedy underscores the importance of all community members being involved in protecting our children. Educators, neighbors, families… all of us… have to be involved.”

If you have any information about this story or another story idea, email Darius Johnson or Janet Oravetz or Anna Hewson. 

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