On Koltyn Sparks’ second birthday, his family gathered around his grave in the baby section of Lakewood Cemetery in Hughson. His cousins gave him cards, balloons and cupcakes.
He had been laid to rest two weeks earlier in a ceremony his grandma called breathtaking. Each family member had placed something in his hardwood casket with a Harley Davidson logo stitched in the satin inside. She gave him a blue Teddy bear embroidered with the Harley logo.
At the gravesite after the funeral on Jan. 25, riders on the motorcycles he so loved did a last voom-voom for him, and the family released white doves.
Tuesday — almost four months to the day since he died — the family learned what they had suspected all along. This was not caused by a high fever due to flu. The cause was blunt trauma, according to the Stanislaus County coroner.
Sonora Police Chief Turu VanderWiel released the results and would say no more.
His paternal grandmother Tracy Gulcynski has not seen the coroner’s report but she has seen the medical records from the University of California Davis Children’s Hospital, where he was sent after being treated at Adventist Health Sonora.
The doctors found he suffered blunt force trauma to the abdomen, which was cited as the cause of death, oxygen deprivation, brain damage, severe dehydration. There was evidence he had been shaken.
Gulcynski said Koltyn’s mother called her from the Sonora hospital to tell her Koltyn was being airlifted to Davis. He was unresponsive.
Gulcynski and other family members went straight there. They waited hours to see him.
“I knew the minute I saw him something dreadful had happened,” she said.
He was pale, cold to the touch, wires were everywhere.
“They kept running tests and running tests all day - CTs — he had a blood transfusion,” she said.
And then he died. The family gathered then, too, circled the bed and said goodbye. Then they prayed for him. They left the parents alone to say their goodbyes.
“I’ll never be able to get the sight of seeing my son through the window holding his baby,” she said. “It was like a scene from a movie. He lived for his baby.”
The official investigation of what happened to Koltyn began that night. The news of his death, which was considered suspicious almost from the start, was not released.
Last week, VanderWiel said he didn’t release the information to protect the integrity of the investigation. He said the same Wednesday about not releasing more than the cause of death.
The family was told it would take time for the coroner to release his findings. Three months passed. Then 100 days, 114 days. Enough, they said, They called the Union Democrat. They staged demonstrations in Sonora’s Courthouse Square, and outside the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office in Modesto. They left behind photos of Koltyn on poles in public places.
Gulcynski called the announcement of the results bittersweet.
“It’s very heartbreaking but we look forward to the investigation and the arrest,” she said.
She’s also concerned the delay has caused evidence to be lost.
She’s thankful authorities are bringing in a forensic specialist to go over the evidence and create a better timeline of where Koltyn was and who he was with. He was with several people that day, she said.
She was told Koltyn’s mother dropped him off around 1:30 p.m. Jan. 14 to stay with a friend on Shepherd Street while she went to work. The friend took him to Adventist Health after midnight on Jan. 15.
VanderWiel said last week investigators had talked to the mother and the person Koltyn was staying with.
Gulcynski’s son Josh Blackwood had not seen his son in more than a week when Koltyn died.
“There are certain stages of grief,” she said. “We’ve hit that stage where we’re angry. We’re going to stand up for him. We want justice. We want something done.”
It’s hard for Gulcynski to stand in her classroom at San Joaquin Elementary where she teaches first grade. She looks into those children’s faces and knows Koltyn won’t get there. He won’t learn to read or enjoy recess. He will forever be 22 months old, a boy big for his age, who loved music and motorcycles and his family.
His 9-year-old cousin Robert goes to the cemetery and sits by the grave.
Gulcynski has yet to open the door of her toy room.
“It’s too hard,” she said.
Contact Lyn Riddle at firstname.lastname@example.org .