Ethan Ali
Family handout

Paramedics walked into a Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment Wednesday afternoon and found 3-year-old Ethan Ali dead, lying in the arms of his aunt, Kristen Dale. The boy’s body had belt marks and bruises on it. Police officers suspect that the boy “was beaten to death with a strap,” the New York Daily News reports.

Medics were called to the apartment in the Brownsville neighborhood after Dale’s boyfriend walked in and found Dale and the lifeless boy. Dale was taken into custody for questioning. Ethan’s grandfather Leroy Ali said that he had warned both Dale and her boyfriend about beating young Ethan so severely.

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“They did it all the time. They beat him and they beat him,” Leroy Ali told the Daily News. “He was always bruised. [Kristen] beat him with the belt. I told her to stop.”

Ethan’s father, Anthony Ali, and mother, Natasha Ali, a home health aide who was at work at the time of the incident, came home Wednesday to find their apartment filled with law-enforcement officials who had begun to investigate the death of their son. The mother was taken to the precinct, and the father could be seen in a photo taken by the Daily News exiting the apartment with his hand covering his face in grief.

According to the Daily News, Children’s Services was never called to look into child-endangerment issues relating to Ethan and his family.

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“We are working closely with the NYPD on an investigation around the circumstances surrounding this tragic death,” said Jill Krauss, the spokeswoman for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.

The medical examiner’s office will determine the exact cause of death. Meanwhile, neighbors remembered Ethan as a “beautiful boy” who liked to play.

“He was a beautiful boy. Friendly, lively. He always liked to play,” said Elsie Witty, who lives in an apartment above the Ali family.

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Read more at the New York Daily News.