Family of 5-year-old who died in day care van seeks answers as they mourn loss

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WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — Christopher Gardner Jr.'s family members said he'd been coming here to Ascent for several years, since he was a young child in fact, and they hadn't had any problems — up until yesterday. Now they're left trying to figure out what happened.

Big brown eyes with a beautiful smile — family members say the pictures capture only a small part of Christopher's personality.

"He was a joy to be around, he was very active, he was well-spoken."

"He loved cookies!"

Christopher's aunt Tasha Smith says she'll miss the little boy family simply called "Junior," who loved cookies, his big sister and playing outside.

"It's hard because we helped raise him from the time he was born, so it's not an easy thing to try to cope with."

Christopher died Monday after being left on a van outside Ascent Children's Health, the day treatment center he attended.

Smith says little Chris had several heart surgeries as a young child but lived a full life and progressed well despite a few developmental delays.

"He was very smart, he picked up very well on a whole lot of stuff."

Ascent cares for children with developmental disabilities and mental illness. Smith says Christopher had been enrolled at the West Memphis campus for years with no problems.

"Have they explained anything about what possibly could have happened? No, we're just getting information little by little. Just waiting to get more details about it."

According to West Memphis police, workers at Ascent missed several steps Monday.

Multiple employees are supposed to check the bus when it arrives daily. Police say Gardner was picked up at 6:40 a.m., but it wasn't until 3:30 p.m. when workers were getting ready to take children home that they found him.

Someone also signed the child in.

"We're just going to keep God first and continue to pray for everybody."

Christoher's family members say they're still in the process of trying to make arrangements. We'll keep you posed on when that become available.