Toddler dies after apparent child abuse

DENVER -- The family of a 3-year-old victim of apparent child abuse is trying to raise enough money to bring his body home to Colorado.

Jonathan "J.J.” Munoz-Bilbrey was born and raised in Denver. He had just moved to Joplin, Missouri, with his mother, Natasha Bilbrey, and his 2-year-old sister a few months ago.

Over the weekend, J.J. was taken to a hospital in critical condition. His health was so poor, he had to be airlifted to a larger hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

Police said his injuries are the result of child abuse at the hand of his mother’s boyfriend, 21-year-old Lenard Valdez.

J.J. was declared dead at the hospital at 2:37 p.m. on Sunday.

“Our Jonathan was lost in a senseless act of violence contrary to the life Jonathan lived,” his aunt Shawntell Byrnes said during a vigil Tuesday night.

Family, friends and neighbors gathered to share memories and light candles for the boy they say was the light of their lives.

“He was amazing. Just the brightest kid,” Byrnes said.

His family describes him as a happy, healthy, typical 3-year-old boy. He will be remembered for making people laugh, his love of corn and rice, and for his infectious smile.

“He was just the sweetest boy that you’ll ever know. It’s so untrue that he is not even going to be with us any longer,” a neighbor said.

The family is trying to get his body home to Colorado. Right now, he is undergoing an autopsy in Kansas City.

After his remains are released, his family wants to have a funeral, but transporting his body will cost around $7,000.

“He needs to be home. He’s not from Joplin, Missouri. He’s not and he doesn’t belong there,” Byrnes said. “We need him home now.”

Valdez is in custody in Missouri. It is unclear what charges he is facing.