‘I am still his mother and he is still my son’Published 10:02am Wednesday, March 10, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Editor’s note: Mary Apfel, mother of Dakotah Eliason, spoke to the Star Tuesday prior to the release of court documents to the media regarding the arrest of her son, documents she hadn’t even seen herself. Apfel had no comment to make about the information contained in those documents at press time.
When Dakotah Eliason, 14, appeared on a television screen broadcast inside a courtroom at the Berrien County South County Courthouse on Monday afternoon, Mary Apfel was a mother in visible agony.
Apfel had not seen her son since before he was taken into custody by Michigan State Police early Sunday morning for allegedly shooting his grandfather, Jesse Miles, who later died.
Eliason was booked and taken to the Berrien County Juvenile Center in St. Joseph, where he remains, charged as an adult with open murder.
In the hours following the incident at Miles’ home on Niles-Buchanan Road in Niles Township, speculation and rumors ran rampant regarding what would lead the 14-year-old boy to commit such an act.
Now his mother is speaking out with the hope the community will not rush to judge her son – though she says some already have.
“We don’t know why he did it,” Apfel said Tuesday. “There is no motive, there’s no motive. He loves his grandparents.”
In fact, Apfel said the Miles’ home was always open to her son and to her even after she and Eliason’s father Steven separated (the two were together for two years but never married).
It was inside that home at approximately 3 a.m. Sunday that tragedy would strike the Apfel-Eliason family in more ways than one.
It wasn’t until approximately 6 a.m. that Apfel found out something had gone terribly wrong and by then, she said, Eliason was already through booking.
“I think he’s in shock,” she said. “He’s 14, he’s all alone and he hasn’t seen his parents.”
She won’t get a chance to see her son until Sunday, and then only for an hour and a half. She’s anxious to see him.
“I want to hug him real tight,” she said. “Tell him I love him and I’m still his mother and he is still my son.”
Since news broke of the incident, Apfel said she has been well aware of the onslaught of new stories in print and on television. News crews and reporters including the Star were inside the courtroom Monday as Eliason was arraigned via satellite.
“I thought my son looked like his soul got ripped out of him,” Apfel said of her reaction to seeing her son’s image on the television. “He looked empty. He looked lost.”
But it is the online coverage that has struck at Apfel, with comments submitted by the public both supporting and condemning her son, a boy she says those people don’t even know.
“I am, as a mother, amazed at the community at how small-minded people can be about a child and that child’s well-being,” she said.
“I feel he is being made an example of,” Apfel added. Specifically, she said, some stories have mentioned the incident regarding her son alongside that of the double homicide of John and Carolyn Tarwacki last month. The killer in that crime remains at-large and Apfel speculated whether her son is being made an example of in the wake of another unsolved murder.
“It’s two separate incidents,” she said. “And it should be treated as such.”
Still, it was a quick process, less than 24 hours for prosecutors to choose the route of an automatic waiver, charging Eliason as an adult with open murder.
Michigan’s laws are that where the decision was once left up to a judge to decide how to handle a juvenile, either charging him as such or (once charged as an adult) choosing to sentence the child with a juvenile sentence, can now essentially be bypassed.
Eliason will be seen in the eyes of the court as an adult and the presiding judge may not sentence him with anything less than the minimum adult sentence, according to the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office.
So what happened to this “loving and kind” child now accused of murder?
“We all know he did a bad thing,” Apfel said. “As to why is what we don’t know. And his mental status, we don’t know. This is not the loving child both of our families know.”
It is troubling to her that it seems the community is “not embracing this child” without so much as “a chance to get a proper evaluation or the help” he might need.
Neither Apfel nor Steven Eliason has been given a copy of the police report as of press time. She said because of that the details of what happened that morning are somewhat elusive even to her.
The situation has sent a shock through family and friends.
“As a family, we have united,” Apfel said. “We don’t condone what (he) did but we love him no matter what.”
She and Steven are working on legal representation for their son.
“I’m worried about the life sentence,” she said, adding that she’s aware of other cases in which those of a young age who’ve committed crimes later find remorse for their actions.
“I’m very concerned,” she said. “I just think that there’s something wrong with him. That’s not him. It’s definitely out of character.”
She added that Eliason has never been arrested prior to the shooting on Sunday. He’s never been in trouble. “This kid loves babies, loves animals, loves people and his friends,” Apfel said.
Which leaves the questions of how and why so unsettling to his parents.
As for Steven, the tragedy is double, and Apfel said, “he’s going through a lot of emotions. You lose a father and you lose a son … he’s giving it his all.”
Chief Assistant Prosecutor Michael Sepic told the Star Monday “it’s a variety of different factors that contribute to” the decision to charge a juvenile as an adult. Asked if she could think of any factors or circumstances that would apply to her son in this case, Apfel said she couldn’t.
“There is nothing that they (police) found in his room, in Steve’s house, in his locker – as far as we are aware – that would make it premeditated.”
There were no signs, she said, “nothing to say this child was troubled.”
When Apfel sits down with her son on Sunday, it will be one week from the day that everything for her, her family and her son, changed.