updated 7/3/2005 10:44:03 PM ET 2005-07-04T02:44:03

A 4-year-old boy who police say was killed by his step-grandmother and left along a rural road in the foothills of the Cascade Range died from a blow to the head, authorities said Sunday.

An autopsy conducted a day after Christine Coffman led police to her step-grandson’s body determined the cause of death to be blunt force head trauma, said Officer Kevin Krebs, a spokesman for the Milwaukie Police Department.

Krebs did not reveal how authorities believe the child was killed or how many times he had been struck. He also wouldn’t say whether the boy was already dead when he was left in the woods, though he said the autopsy showed the child died from his injuries.

Coffman, 43, was charged Saturday with aggravated murder in the death of Matal Sanchez, who had disappeared Wednesday from his home in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie about 25 miles from where his body was found.

In the neighborhood of well-tended lawns and blooming trees, neighbors said they never suspected that Coffman, who appeared to be a doting grandmother, could be involved in the boy’s disappearance. But her behavior on the day the child was reported missing raised questions.

Matal disappeared about the same time Coffman left the home, Krebs said. But when Coffman returned three hours later, the child wasn’t with her and her clothes were stained with a red-colored substance.

“From the moment I saw that, I thought something was wrong,” said Debbie Leader, a neighbor who shares a fenceline with the boy’s family.

Holly Miller, 15, another neighbor, said Coffman appeared agitated. “I asked her if she was OK. She was just sitting there crying,” Miller said.

Krebs confirmed that Coffman had a red residue on her clothes but declined to say whether it was blood.

Coffman was questioned while neighbors and authorities spent days searching for the boy. It wasn’t until Saturday that she led detectives to the body near the town of Estacada in an area blanketed in heavy brush.

“The sad part is your family is the one you’re supposed to be safest with,” said Chuck Brittle, 46, a commercial flower grower, whose house lies a few miles away from where the body was found.

Coffman is being held without bail and is scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday in Clackamas County Court. It wasn’t immediately known if she had an attorney who could comment. The family wasn’t at the home, which was cordoned off by police tape Sunday.

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