‘Everyone failed him’: Boy’s aunt accused of murder, DSHS accused of ‘critical errors’

Five-year-old Gary Blanton died in the care of an aunt struggling with six kids in a “chaotic” home. Why did the state keep him there?

The alarming signs about Cynthia Khaleel were piling up.

The state had put two nephews in her care, and one of them, 5-year-old Gary, came to school near Spokane with his face covered in scratches and bruises.

Chattaroy Elementary staffers suspected abuse, and called the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).


Aug. 1, 2014: Gary and Skylar go to live with Cynthia Khaleel.

September-November 2014: Health and safety visits, which were later questioned.

Dec. 12, 2014: Gary’s school alerts DSHS to possible abuse.

Feb. 3, 2015: DSHS caseworker raises concerns about Khaleel.

Feb. 5, 2015: Court commissioner orders Gary’s sister Destiny to be placed with Khaleel.

Feb. 17, 2015: DSHS caseworker finds Khaleel home “chaotic.”

April 18, 2015: Gary dies.

Sept. 14, 2016: Gary’s grandmother sues DSHS.

Oct. 17, 2017: Khaleel’s murder trial to begin.

Sources: Court and DSHS documents

Khaleel, then in her late 20s, was furious. She cursed out a counselor and was banned from school grounds unless security was present. The principal considered Khaleel “hotter than a pistol.”

She was overwhelmed and undersupported, school staffers told DSHS. Both nephews had profound special needs, and Khaleel was also raising three young children of her own — essentially as a single mother, with a military husband stationed far away.

Yet across the state in a Port Angeles courtroom, DSHS was fighting a prolonged battle to place another child, Gary’s younger sister, with Khaleel.

Two months after a commissioner gave the OK — and four months after the school’s report of suspected abuse — an emergency crew found Gary lying inert in his bed.

Helicoptered to the hospital in April 2015, he had bruises all over his body and skull fractures suggesting a severe blow. He suffered a massive stroke and brain injury, and died soon after.

Khaleel told a detective she found Gary lying on the floor earlier in the morning and put him back to bed — a scenario the medical examiner found inconsistent with Gary’s injuries.

Khaleel, now 30, stands charged with second-degree murder. She has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial in June. Out on bail, she could not be reached for comment.

Whatever the outcome, the case underscores deep and persistent problems in…

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