GLEN HAVEN (WWJ/AP) - Officials have found an Oakland County man and his three children in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore area in Northern Michigan.
Daniel Elliott, a 50-year-old Orchard Lake resident, had a warrant for his arrest for domestic abuse and went missing with his children over the weekend.
“I feared for the worst,” Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said after the ordeal ended Monday night. “It all turned out well, but something was wrong with this picture.”
Elliott was jailed overnight and scheduled for arraignment Tuesday in Emmet County, where his wife filed the domestic violence complaint, Borkovich said. He described the incident as minor and said no other charges were expected.
Chief Ranger Phil Akers said police received a call Sunday to watch for Elliott and his children, ages 14, 10 and 9.
A ranger found Elliott’s BMW about 7 a.m. Monday near the Coast Guard Maritime Heritage Museum at Sleeping Bear Dunes. According to reports, police found “unusual things” inside, but would not identify the contents.
Borkovich said the ranger ran a check on the license plate and learned there was an alert for the vehicle, touching off the massive manhunt.
Crews walked the Lake Michigan shoreline and combed wetlands and inland ridges. The search involved dozens of personnel from the Michigan State Police, the national park, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Leelanau County and Grand Traverse County sheriff’s departments. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter team searched by air.
Parts of the lakeshore, including the popular Dune Climb, were closed to the public during the search.
Reinforcements from volunteer fire departments and other agencies arrived Monday night and began combing the area more systematically. The family was found about an hour later, walking down a sandy hillside. The terrain in the park along the northern Lake Michigan coast is a mixture of towering dunes and swampy woodlands thick with trees and undergrowth.
Akers said the children told their rescuers that their father told them they were “camping.” The children also said they knew the helicopter was looking for them and they stayed hidden to avoid detection from the air.
“They didn’t appear to have a lot of supplies or equipment with them,” said Phil Akers, chief ranger at the national lakeshore. “Just kind of a spur-of-the-moment, ‘Let’s take off into the woods and go camping’ trip.”
The children were exhausted, famished and covered with mosquito bites but otherwise unharmed, Borkovich said.
They had been given nothing to eat or drink since breakfast Sunday morning. They arrived that afternoon at the lakeshore in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, about 280 miles northwest of Detroit, and spent the night in the woods with little if any shelter. A heavy rainstorm drenched the area Monday morning, and the remainder of the day was hot and muggy.
Elliott got into a conflict with his wife Sunday during a vacation trip to Emmet County, Borkovich said. She filed a complaint against him with the county sheriff’s department, which issued a misdemeanor warrant. Elliott’s wife told police that she was forced out of the family vehicle by her husband and he drove off with their children.
“We saw no criminal intent,” Borkovich said afterward. “It didn’t look like the subject was going to flee to Chicago with the kids or out west or to Mexico. It didn’t look like he planned to harm them in any way. The spouse said he loves his kids and they love him. We got good word from his side of the family that he’s a very gentle person and no problems… So as it turned out, it’s a very strange event but all ended well.”
Police believe Elliott thought he needed to keep the children away from his wife and that is why they were hiding in the woods on the dunes. The children were turned over to their mother.
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