Tiara Nelson says she gave CPS plenty of opportunities to step in and protect Zion Nelson from the violent outbursts of his father, but her calls went unanswered.
Thursday night, more than a dozen people gathered in Central Fresno to hold a vigil in Zion's honor. Many said they were heartbroken after learning the disturbing details of the toddler's murder and wanted to reach out to the boy's family.
"It saddens me so much that I didn't get to see his last year here," said the boy's mother Tiara Larson.
The tearful mother had a tough time finding the words to describe how it feels to lose her little boy. This as a group of people she's never even met before, formed a circle around her, holding hands and exchanging prayers as they tried to come to terms with what happened to Zion.
"My heart just went out to baby Zion and what happened to him. I just wanted to, you know, celebrate his life. I just feel bad about the way he passed," said Rose Gibson, who helped organize the event.
It was at this very intersection at Palm and Garland, where police caught up with the boy's father Donald Nelson, after he called 911 to report his son wasn't breathing.
Investigators say they found the lifeless little boy wrapped in a blanket in the backseat of Nelson's car. They now believe he was beaten all over his body by his dad and live-in girlfriend Moneesha Camp. The two were arrested shortly after the incident.
"I was hurt. I couldn't believe someone could do that to their son," said Alexis Williams, who wrote a poem for Zion.
Zion's mother, Tiara Larson, said she and Donald Nelson were involved in a heated custody battle, that she too was beaten by him in the past and claimed she had called Child Protective Services dozens of times to have them check on her two children, but workers never followed through.
"I tried to tell as many people who would listen to me that my son was in danger and no one really took a second look at it," said Larson.
Larson has now hired attorney Warren Paboojian to file a lawsuit against CPS. He's the same lawyer who successfully represented the father of 10-year-old Seth Ireland; the little boy beaten to death by his stepfather despite reports of abuse from neighbors and a school principal.
Paboojian told Action News the two cases have many similarities.
"I think the jury's verdict in that case clearly shows that Child Protective Services, at least at that time, had a problem and it doesn't seem, from what I'm hearing in this case, that things have changed much," he said.
Paboojian said he plans to file the paperwork sometime in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, the family said it appreciated the generosity of complete strangers and looks forward to holding a funeral for Zion. If you'd like to help, the family set up a memorial fund on giveforward.com.