The Death of Innocence

The police say Krystal Voss shook her son hard enough to kill him. The evidence says something else.

The couple had kept Kyran on a natural diet -- nothing but breast milk for six months, then organic veggies and juices. Ramirez saw himself as a kind of alternative father figure, Voss says, complaining that the toddler should get a taste of McDonald's, encouraging him to walk rather than be carried, to avoid girly hats, to play hard -- to be a little man, rather than a coddled Buddha baby. "I suppose I'm kind of macho around him," Ramirez told Alejo, describing his approach to baby-sitting.

Voss didn't mind Ramirez's influence on her son. But there were many details of Ramirez's past she knew little about. She knew, for example, that he liked a beer now and then, but not that he'd gone on an alcohol-related spree in his early twenties, resulting in theft, criminal-mischief, assault and deadly-weapon charges (baseball bat, butcher knife) incurred in a single 24-hour period in two counties. She knew he occasionally smoked pot -- Ramirez would tell Alejo that he, Gaston and Voss had indulged together -- but not that he'd served time in jail; after bargaining his multiple assault charges down to a couple of misdemeanors, he then failed the conditions of his probation by repeatedly testing positive for marijuana.

She knew he was a Type-A driver, but she didn't know much about how he responded to stress -- or the explosive temper that had led to a tense incident at Children's Hospital a year before she met him. According to the police summons issued to Ramirez, he became "belligerent" with a doctor who was treating his daughter; after security officers were called to remove him, he allegedly hurled a final threat at the physician: "I'm going to come back here and kill you." Ramirez pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace, and the threat charge was dismissed.

John Johnston
All natural: Krystal Voss and Damien Gaston met at 
Wild Oats. Their son, Kyran, was born at home.
All natural: Krystal Voss and Damien Gaston met at Wild Oats. Their son, Kyran, was born at home.

In many ways, despite their intimacy, the man who was watching Voss's son was a stranger to her.

Voss got up shortly after 8 a.m. on January 31. Her husband had already left for work. Kyran woke up a few minutes later, Voss says, waited patiently while she finished her shower, and devoured two bananas for breakfast. Twenty-eight pounds and only a few days shy of eighteen months old, he already had a 53-word vocabulary and loved to look at books while sitting in her lap.

Damien's father, Steve Gaston, called the house from Denver around ten that morning and spoke to Voss. He heard Kyran giggling in the background, playing with his toys. Voss told him she was going to Denver that evening with a friend named Pat; Damien was planning to stay in Alamosa with the baby over the weekend.

Ramirez arrived right around noon. At that point, the accounts diverge. Voss's version, which closely resembles what Ramirez initially told police, is that Kyran visited with their guest, and then she put him down for a nap. After he fell asleep, she hung out with Ramirez on the porch before heading off to work. She arrived there a few minutes later than her usual 1:30 p.m. starting time.

She'd been gone from the house scarcely half an hour when she received a phone call from Ramirez. According to Voss, it went something like this:

"Krystal, you need to come home right now. Something's wrong with Kyran."


"Just come home, right now!"

Laura Cranson, the assistant manager of the Valley Food Co-op, was the person who handed her the phone. She confirms that the call was extremely brief. "I knew something was wrong," Cranson says. "I could feel she was becoming agitated."

Voss left immediately, leaving behind her paycheck. If she'd had more information, she says, she would have called an ambulance. But she didn't realize how badly her son was hurt until she got to the house, and at that point she decided it would be faster to take him to the hospital herself, with Ramirez doing the driving.

From the hospital, Voss called her father-in-law to tell him that Kyran was hurt. Steve Gaston tried to call her back around 4 p.m.; he ended up reaching Ramirez, who'd borrowed Voss's cell phone and was on his way to Denver. Ramirez repeated the same story he'd already told Voss about his Chaplinesque fall on top of Kyran.

"He was hysterical, crying and saying, 'I'm so sorry,'" Steve Gaston recalls. "He said he shook him and shook him, trying to revive him. He didn't go into more details. I asked him why he took him outside, where there was all this debris, and he said Kyran wanted to go. It was like he was blaming Kyran; he sounded like a seven-year-old child. That's when I got the impression there was something more he wasn't telling me."

Ramirez told his story over and over the next few days. He told it to Alejo and Damien Gaston. He told it to Damien's mother and her husband after the family began to gather at Children's Hospital.

"He was very apologetic," says Major Marcks, Damien's stepfather. "I told him that we've all made mistakes; I took what he was saying at face value."

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