Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer had a lot of experience comforting grieving families as the leader of Kansas’ largest city, but that experience did little to prepare him for his own family’s tragedy.
Wichita police discovered the body of Brewer’s 3-year-old grandson, Evan, encased in concrete last month after Brewer’s son, the boy’s father, had made repeated requests to the Kansas Department for Children and Families to check on the boy.
The tragedy has given Brewer’s campaign a new focus on the issue of reforming DCF, the state agency in charge of investigating child welfare complaints and administering the state’s foster care system. The agency has been under scrutiny in recent weeks because of the number of children missing from foster care.
Brewer, a Democratic candidate for Kansas governor, said he consoled numerous families after tragedies during his eight years as Wichita’s mayor from 2007 to 2015.
“I’ve seen children that have been caught in drive-bys. And toddlers. And babies. And parents making bad decisions, and domestic violence and children losing their lives. I’ve seen it,” Brewer said during an interview at the Kansas City Star’s offices this week.
“But nothing really touches home — I mean, it’s painful to watch it and go to these funerals — but nothing really touches home until it really reaches your doorstep. And you can say that you understand and you can say that you’re sympathetic,” he said. “But you’re really not and you can’t.”
Brewer’s son and the boy’s mother had been locked in a custody battle prior to the discovery of Evan’s body. Brewer was in the Kansas City area for the American Royal barbeque competition when he got a phone call from Wichita’s chief of police.
“In our minds, we figured, OK, the mom is just hiding the child. We had no idea until the chief of police actually called and said, ‘You need to come home,’ ” Brewer said, explaining that at first he thought it was a mistake.
Brewer, who would become the first African-American governor of Kansas if he wins, suspended his campaign for a week and half before returning to the campaign trail later that month.
He pointed to the messages of condolences his family had received from other families who have had similar experiences as what convinced him to stay in the race.
“It was amazing the number of people sending out their condolences… We thought about it and we said, OK, this is going to continue on unless somebody steps in and they’re prepared to make a difference to stop it,” he said.
DCF did not immediately respond to phone calls or emails Monday. Brewer said that his family had filed multiple requests with DCF to do welfare checks on Evan.
“They went there, but they never saw him and they said he was fine,” he said. “Well, that’s not good enough.”