CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The remains of a 4-year-old boy who was found in a trash bag in September 2017 have been identified by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner, and his grandmother said his death may have been avoided if she was able to file a missing child report.
According to Dr. Thomas Gilson, the boy has been identified as Eliazar Ruiz. A cause of death has not been released.
"Today we can confirm the identity of this child, with the help of our media partners, we received information that enabled us to use DNA technology to establish an identification as Eliazar Ruiz," said Gilson.
Eliazar's remains were discovered by a landscaper on Sept. 20, 2017 in the backyard of an abandoned home on Longmead Avenue, just off of West 130th Street.
Ashley Makuhan, the mother of the 4-year-old, was sent to jail in 2016 for drug related charges. The son was in the care of the godmother ever since the mother went to jail, according to grandmother Dawn Battle.
"Makuhan currently had no children in her custody when we closed the last case in May of 2012," according to Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services. "She was also not pregnant at that time that we were aware of."
She said Eliazar went missing sometime after July 4, 2016 when he was at a girlfriend's party off of Lake Avenue. This was the home of Eliazar's godmother who Battle said she can't identify due to the police investigation.
Battle did say the godmother is a young woman with three children of her own who is not a relative.
There was no initial missing person report filed because the 25-year-old mother, father Ruben Ruiz and Battle thought the godmother had taken Eliazar out of the state and they just couldn't get a hold of him, Battle said.
Children and family services said it has "no record of this child, Eliazar Ruiz in the system and we've search by birthdate, name spellings and more."
Nearly one year later in June 2017, Battle said she called the Second District Police to report him missing and was told she could not because she wasn't a custodial parent or legal guardian. She had asked to file a missing person report and have a cop come out. She told police Eliazar Ruiz's mom was in jail and his dad couldn't be found.
Earlier this month, Battle said Makuhan saw the sketch on television while jailed at a state facility.
"She woke up that morning and turned on the news, saw the sketch and told officers that might be him so she told the officer and they took DNA," she said.
About a week later, the following Friday she found out it was positive.
"She didn't realize he was missing. Just a big mix-up," said Battle.
Once landscapers found the body, police starting looking at missing kids or parents who were coming forward trying to report their kids missing.
"Maybe he would be alive if they would have let me report him missing in June," said Battle.
The medical examiner's office released a timeline of the investigation.
- Sept. 20, 2017 - The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office and Cleveland Police Department responded to 12902 Longmead Avenue, where remains were found in a plastic bag in the backyard of an unoccupied home. Cleveland Police Detectives Kathleen Carlin and Tim Entenok begin to investigate the case and potential leads.
- Sept. 21, 2017 - An autopsy is conducted, and a DNA profile is developed by the Parentage & Identification Department at the Medical Examiner's Office. The autopsy reveals the remains belong to a child.
- Sept. 25, 2017 - Dr. Linda Spurlock, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Kent State University, examines the skeletal remains to obtain demographic information for a forensic sketch.
- Oct. 10, 2017: DNA profile of the decedent determined the decedent's sex is male, which will be used for comparison with potential matches.
- Dec. 6, 2017: The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office and Cleveland Police Department hold a joint press conference with the local media, asking the public for their assistance in identifying the decedent. A forensic sketch is released to the media and estimates the child is approximately 4 years old. Race could not be determined at that time. Cause and manner of death are still pending, but the case is being investigated as suspicious.
- Dec. 6, 2017: Local media outlets and community partners help distribute the sketch to the public through news stories, social media posts, and billboards.
- Jan. 8, 2018: Additional news stories are produced and aired, providing increased visibility for the sketch.
- Jan. 9, 2018: A tipster contacts investigators after seeing sketch in the media.
- Jan. 19, 2018: Through collaborative investigative efforts between the Medical Examiner's Office and Cleveland Police Department, a tentative ID was obtained. Furthermore, a positive identification was made through DNA comparison to match:
"Cases involving child fatalities are extremely sad. Now that Eliazar has been identified, he can be properly laid to rest as he deserves," said Cleveland Chief of Police Calvin Williams.
Nikki Clark, who says she is the boy's cousin, also identified the 4-year-old.
In December, investigators released a composite sketch, hoping for more information in the case.
The cause of death is still not known, but Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson said the manner is "extremely suspicious."