AUSTIN, Texas - The disappearance and death of Colton Turner this past summer devastated the community and his family.
The toddler was found dead in a shallow grave in September after he was reported missing. Colton's mother, Meagan Work, is facing felony charges of injury to a child and injury to a child by omission. She is being held on $750,000 bond.
Colton's aunt, Sydney Work, spoke exclusively to FOX 7's Elizabeth Saab, revealing never-before-heard details leading up to the tragedy.
Sydney says she has endured more than most in her 17 years. "We made it through and we did what we had to be here today," she said.
Now a mother of three, Sydney and her two sisters grew up in the crossfire of their parents Sid and Tayleen's drug abuse and neglect.
"It was crazy. I remember being embarrassed at school because they would come and announce over the intercom that CPS was there to talk to me," Sydney explained.
That torment came at her in every direction, especially from her older sister Meagan. Sydney says it still haunts her to this day. "Some of the things she played it just wasn't… it wasn't like sisters should do. It was nerve-wracking and sick the entire time, just looking back as kids."
Sydney would move to East Texas to be with her mother, leaving the painful memories of Meagan behind. "This isn't some family that's stuck together and been together. It was more like, I'll see her once a year or once every few years and I'll talk to her just to see how Colton was."
Tayleen Work died in February.
An aspiring nurse, Sydney and her three girls moved back to Austin. With nowhere to go, they temporarily moved in with her father Sid.
"When she passed, it really took a toll on me and I really didn't have someone I could turn to down there for support or help. It's more of a thing where I had to do what I wish I could have done."
That's when she started seeing her nephew Colton more often. She never suspected the toddler was being abused until mid-May.
"I am one of the people who took those photos," she revealed.
Sydney was babysitting the two-year-old while Meagan was at work. She noticed bruising on his head.
"I instantly started taking pictures to send them to Meagan to ask what had happened or if she knew," she explains.
While she was changing Colton a few hours later, she saw bruising on the toddler's back and that day confronted Meagan again.
"She instantly tried turning it around on me. I said this had to have happened last night or early this morning because there is no way I could not have seen that the last day," she said.
Sydney says Meagan kept making excuses then Meagan and her boyfriend, Michael Turner, picked Colton up and disappeared.
Saab asked Sydney why she didn't call 911. She explained she was scared that Meagan would turn around and blame her and her kids would be taken away.
Sydney was home with two adults over the age of 18 with Colton. She says she didn't go to authorities then because they would come and investigate and she didn't want to have any problems with Child Protective Services.
But Sydney had photos and she immediately turned them over to her aunt Raquel.
"I couldn't say anything with the past I had with CPS. They didn't protect me, they didn't protect my sisters. I didn't know where to go from there so I sent them to someone who could do something about it."
Desperate to save Colton, Sydney's family urgently mounted a campaign to find Meagan by repeatedly calling CPS, reaching out to local authorities, hiring a lawyer, and even roaming the streets.
"As soon as Meagan figured out that CPS was being called, that's when she disappeared for about two months
Without Meagan's location, Sydney says they were helpless.
"We have to let people know it's not because we didn't try or that we didn't do anything and just stood by and let it happen," she insists.
Meagan had cut off all contact with her family., blocking them from Facebook, hiding out with friends, and dodging her family's frequent requests to see her.
"Nobody understands how manipulative Meagan can be and how evil she can be. Everybody was protecting her and I am glad the pictures surfaced and Brianna got to them and was able to tell the police."
But it was too late.
Within 48 hours on September 12th, police were led to a gruesome discovery. The little boy that Sydney loved so much, was found buried in a shallow grave.
"I can't imagine to being able to sleep or eat or doing any of it. I couldn't hold a flashlight while my kid was being buried."
Sydney's sorrow has now turned into defiant rage.
"If she does watch this, I want her to know that she is alone. She has no one standing by her. And she deserves everything coming to her," she said.
She's fighting with her aunt Raquel to pass Colton's Law, so that children who can't be located, like Colton, don't fall through the cracks ever again.
"He shouldn't have had to go through what he did just because she wanted to be selfish," she said.
Sydney and her aunt are meeting with lawmakers over the coming weeks and hope to have Colton's Law written for January's legislative session.