Tanner Eugene Dowler
August 10, 2002 - October 12, 2002
Find A Grave Memorial
Tanner Dowler was born on August 10, 2002, he would only live for a little over two months. On October 3, 2002, Tanner was flown by helicopter to the Denver Health Medical Center were it was found that he was suffering from 11 broken ribs, two broken arms, two broken legs, burns to his feet and brain damage.

In late June of 2002, Lea Dowler sent a fax to the Platte Valley Medical Center saying she was concerned for her unborn grandchild's well being. She said that there were anger management issuers as well as unemployment and instability issues going on. At that time, she didn't mention any concern for the physical safety of the unborn  child. On August 10, 2002 Tanner Dowler was born and the medical records show that everything was normal with the delivery and that his mother had been receiving regular prenatal care during her pregnancy.

On August 13, 2002 Lea Dowler sent another fax, this time to the Weld Country Department Of Human Services. Once again she was worried about the situation in the home of her son, Joseph Dowler, his wife, Audra Dowler and their baby boy, Tanner Dowler. She was concerned for several reasons, homelessness, financial problem, anger management problems, unemployment and immaturity. Again, she did not express any concerns for the physical well being of the baby.

The letter was faxed to the Boulder Counter Department Of Social Services since the letter indicated that the family lived in Boulder. An internal records check was done and they requested that local law enforcement do a check as well. Due to the inability to find an address for the family, the report was not assigned to anyone and was not looked into any further.

Medical records show that Tanner received a well baby check up at the Salud Clinic where his mother had received her prenatal care. The records show that Tanner was growing properly and there were no signs of abuse or neglect. A note in the records said that Tanner's  father was very involved with the visit while his mother seemed to be distracted and didn't want to answer any questions.

On August 22, Joseph and Audra went to an appointment to get on the WIC program and after presenting Tanner's medical records it was determined that he was the right height and weight for his age. On August 28, Tanner received his second well baby check up and there were no signs of abuse or neglect noted.

On August 30, Joseph went to the Louisville office of the Boulder County Department Of Social Services. Joseph was exhibiting some volatile and angry behavior. The Child Protection Unit caseworker watched Joseph with Tanner and decided that there was nothing that needed to be reported to the intake casework staff for a follow up.

On October 3, 2002, Tanner was brought into the Community Medical Center in Lafayette. While there, Tanner went into respiratory arrest. Doctors were unable to resuscitate him. Tanner was transported by helicopter to the Denver Health Medical Center where his injuries were discovered by the doctors.

A few days before he would have been nine weeks old, Tanner was baptized and the decision was made, by his grandparents, to take him off of life support. Tanner died on October 12, 2002.

After his arrest, Joseph told the police that he had an anger problem and he needed help. He said that he was afraid he had hurt his son and was afraid his anger would some day cause him to hurt his wife. Joseph stated that, in the past, he had gotten rid of his pets because he had hurt them. Joseph Dowler was charged with first degree
murder in the death of his son. Joseph was convicted of child abuse resulting in a death and was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Audra Dowler plead guilty in June of 2003, to charges of abuse and negligence for her role in Tanner's death. Audra was sentenced to ten years in prison. Audra would serve about three years of her sentence before she is let out of prison. Upon her release, Audra was in an intensive supervised program in which she is required to wear an ankle bracelet that monitored her movements. She was required to check in with a case worker and submit to random drug and alcohol testing. She was also required to be home by curfew.

Tanner was buried on October 21, 2002. His casket was white and on top was a bouquet of rose and a teddy bear. Around the casket were other bouquets of flowers, a cast of his hands and pictures of Tanner sleeping when he was just born.

About 50 family and friends attended the service for Tanner at the Tabor Funeral Home. Pastor David DeBord spoke to them:

"All your hopes and dreams for him are gone. The grandparents feel like they should have done 
more, but knowing that they can't is what we're left to deal with" 

David Debord added that he thought maybe some good might come out of the death of Tanner:

"It's too early to tell what good might come from this. Maybe his death might expose a hole 
in the safety net that needs repairing. 

There are those people who believe Tanner's death DID expose a weakness in Colorado's child welfare system. Tanner's grandparents said that they were afraid for him, that they had called authorities and told them that Joseph and Audra needed parenting classes. The help didn't get to them because of a mix-up when Audra's maiden name was used by the Colorado child welfare system. If they had used her married name of Dowler, they would have seen that Joseph and Audra had applied for assistance and their address was on the papers.

Boulder County Social Services was cleared of any wrong doing in the case of Tanner's death.

Sealed in a plastic bag to protect it from the rain, a card was placed at Tanners grave on what would have been his fifth birthday:

You're 5. How big you'd be now.
Grandma and Grandpa

Dowler timeline

August 10, 2002: Tanner Dowler is born

October 3, 2002: Joseph and Audra Dowler take Tanner to a Lafayette clinic, saying he is unresponsive and lethargic. Suffering brain damage, broken bones and second-degree burns, the baby is airlifted to Denver Health Medical Center. Both parents are arrested.

October 12, 2002: Tanner is removed from life support and dies.

June 3, 2003: Audra Dowler is sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to child abuse and negligence.

November. 24, 2003: Joseph Dowler is convicted of child abuse resulting in death. He is later sentenced to 60 years in prison.

July 14, 2004: Audra Dowler is granted a divorce and goes back to using her maiden name, Riley.

2006: Audra Riley is released from prison into an intensive, supervised program.

August 2032: Joseph Dowler is eligible for his first parole hearing.


On November 6, 2013, Joseph Dowler, who was by then 45 years old, had died in prison. No cause of death was reported at first. Later that month it was reported that Joseph had died of heart disease.

Death Occurred in the state of Colorado

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