Police found the 2-year-old boy sleeping just a few feet away from a syringe full of heroin. The five adults with him inside a Bloomington motel room on Sept. 16 had turned it into a drug den. One of them was the boy’s mother, Cynthia Kiewatt, who since May had been sought by child protection workers who feared she would harm the child.

Kiewatt, 43, was arrested and charged with child endangerment. Bloomington police then heeded the mother’s request to turn the boy over to a family friend, records show. The same day, the child was passed along to two other people.

A lawyer for Hennepin County told a judge Tuesday that the boy could not be found.

The child’s former foster parents, Erin and Pernell Meier, said this is only the latest in a series of failures to protect the child. Twice they warned child protection officials about the danger the boy faced, records show, but the Meiers, who want to adopt him, said they were ignored.

“Whenever we raised concerns, there was a closing of ranks, a dismissal of anything we had to say,” Pernell Meier said.

Bloomington Deputy Police Chief Mark Hartley said that if officers on the scene that night had known the boy was a missing child, they would never have turned him over to the family friend.

On Wednesday, the boy’s presumed father, James Salter, called the Star Tribune to say that he had the boy living with his family in Chicago, and planned to bring him to child protection.

“He’s not missing,” Salter said. “He’s fine.”

Last year, a judge prohibited Kiewatt from allowing the boy to be around Salter, who has been convicted of domestic assault and drug crimes, and has an open arrest warrant for violating his probation.

“The matter is under serious investigation with a full and complete effort to find the child,” said Chuck Laszewski, spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney’s office.

County officials said state privacy laws forbid them from saying anything else about the case. But court and police records describe the county’s efforts to keep the boy with Kiewatt, despite evidence that she repeatedly harmed not only him, but her other children.

Born addicted

By the time she gave birth to the boy in a basement apartment in May 2013, Kiewatt already had been convicted of prostitution, drug crimes and several other offenses dating to 1999. Two child protection agencies found her responsible for maltreatment at least four times. She lost the parental rights to two of her children.

Her newborn baby was taken to a hospital, where he tested positive for high levels of opiates and cocaine. He stayed there for two weeks as his body withdrew from the drugs.

He was then placed into foster care with the Meiers, who lived in rural Kasson in southern Minnesota and had already adopted another of Kiewatt’s children. The Meiers continued to wean the child off the drugs, giving him methadone as he wailed in pain.

Meanwhile, Hennepin County worked to reunite the boy with his mother. A judge ordered Kiewatt to go to drug treatment, which she had failed repeatedly in the past. But by September 2013, Kiewatt had done so well in the program that the judge granted her unsupervised weekend visits with her 4-month-old son. The next month they were fully reunited, under the order that she have no contact with Salter.

In December 2013, the Meiers objected to the reunification, saying in a sworn affidavit that they saw Kiewatt with Salter, and feared both were abusing drugs. Yet in February 2014, a judge agreed with child protection’s recommendation that Kiewatt’s six months of sobriety was enough to close the abuse case. The Meiers said they had hoped she would stay in contact with them, but she never returned calls.

They continued to worry about the boy. In December, they googled Kiewatt’s name and phone number and found prostitution ads created that month. Photos showed Kiewatt posing in lingerie on a bed.

“Incall or out 24/7” one of the ads read. “Hi guys back in town call me.”

The Meiers sent the ads and everything else they knew about Kiewatt’s history to Hennepin child protection workers, hoping they would come to the boy’s aid.

In a letter dated Feb. 12, 2015, social worker Barbara Hawkins responded to the Meiers that the county was “unable to conduct an investigation because the information you provided does not meet the definition of abuse, sexual abuse or neglect under Minnesota law.”

The boy goes missing

Two weeks later, the county got a new report that Kiewatt was using heroin, and that she brought the boy to a methadone appointment where she nodded off repeatedly.

A child protection investigator spoke with Kiewatt at a shelter the next day. She denied using heroin or neglecting her son, but the investigator told her that he would transfer the case to a field worker.

That worker never could reach Kiewatt. Three months later, the county filed a petition in court alleging that Kiewatt was a threat to her child, saying “her whereabouts are unknown.” In June, a child protection worker filed a missing person’s report with Minneapolis police. But no arrest warrant or public alert was issued, and Kiewatt dropped out of sight until Sept. 16.

That morning, a clerk at the Northwood Inn told Bloomington police about a guest who appeared to be high and had a young boy with her, according to police records. One of the five adults in the room was lying next to the child. Strewn among dirty clothes and old food were cocaine and meth, crack pipes and dirty needles, the reports said.

While under arrest, Kiewatt asked an officer if Almon Bock, a family friend, could come down to pick up her son, according to Hartley. The officer agreed, and after a brief criminal history check, allowed the friend to take the boy, Hartley said.

Hartley said Tuesday he had no idea the boy was missing until he was told by a reporter.

In an interview with the Star Tribune, Bock said that after about 45 minutes with the boy, he turned him over to Kiewatt’s adult daughter. The daughter, Bock said, later texted him to say she gave the boy to Salter.

Salter said he picked up his son the day Kiewatt was arrested, and that no one from the county contacted him. He said Kiewatt has called him daily from the Hennepin County jail.

But in a hearing Tuesday, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Erin Goltz said “as the court is aware, we have been unable to locate” the boy. Goltz and the judge asked Kiewatt if she knew where her son was, or how to contact Salter. She said she didn’t know.

“I’m going to be released soon,” Kiewatt told the court, “and of course I’m going to go look for my boy.”