The father of a 5-year-old Denver boy shot by his mother in his sleep while visiting Montana last weekend says he had tried for months to convince Denver County child welfare workers the woman was paranoid and his son was not safe.

Kenny Kreuscher would have turned 6 this month. He died after he was shot in the head with a .22 rifle while he slept last Saturday night, March 5, while visiting his grandfather’s house, his father said. His mother, Sara Atkinson, 41, then shot herself in what Montana authorities called a murder-suicide. Atkinson and the boy’s father, Ken Kreuscher, had been embroiled in a years’ long custody battle and multiple incidents involving Denver police and Denver County child welfare workers. In recent months, the battle had escalated, and Kreuscher told caseworkers the boy’s mother was growing increasingly paranoid, believing there were cameras and bombs in her home, he said.

“She had threatened to do it before,” Kreuscher said. “She said, ‘I’m going to kill myself. I’m going to take him with me.’ “

The parents had 50-50 custody of Kenny, and Kreuscher said he blames child welfare officials for not taking his concerns seriously enough.

Denver County child welfare officials would not talk about the specifics of the case, citing privacy laws.

“The loss of this child is an absolute tragedy for this family, their loved ones and friends, and for our community and agency,” said Julie Smith, communications director for the county human services department, which includes child welfare. “We are working to understand the circumstances surrounding this horrible act.”

She encouraged “any parent out there” experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming a child to call the agency’s help line: 1-844-493-TALK, or 8255.

The state human services department is required to review any fatality or egregious abuse of a child who had previous involvement with the child welfare system. The latest pending investigation listed on the state’s fatality review list, which does not include children’s names, is regarding a 5-year-old boy.

Kreuscher rushed to Montana when he learned his son was in a Billings hospital, brain dead after the shooting near the small town of Roundup. He arrived from Denver two hours after the boy’s death.

“I begged them to keep him alive until we got there,” he said.

Jennifer Brown: 303-954-1593, jenbrown@ or @jbrowndpost

Editor’s note: After this story ran, the family of Sara Atkinson sent this letter to The Denver Post:

We appreciate the kind thoughts, prayers and respect for our privacy from the Denver community while we grieve the tragic death of our daughter Sara Katherine Atkinson and grandson Kenneth Liam Walter Kreuscher.

We are grateful for Colorado state Senator Linda Newell’s investigation into the handling of our daughter Sara‘s ongoing custody dispute. It is certain that the true facts will be revealed, that she was a kind, loving and dedicated mother, daughter, sister and friend; and that her character will be vindicated from the false image portrayed in the news media.

Sara and Kenny are remembered for the love and joy they brought to our family and friends. They are sadly missed by all of us who truly knew and loved them.

Sincerest regards, Mr. & Mrs. John E. Kratzer and Mr. & Mrs. Walter P. Atkinson