The Ottumwa Courier

September 5, 2013

Woman accused of trying to kill autistic daughter, self

By Matt Troutman
CNHI News Service

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — A mother who for years desperately battled insurance companies and bureaucrats to secure help for her acutely autistic, physically abusive daughter could face charges of trying to kill the girl in a failed murder-suicide attempt.

Kelli Stapleton, who penned a blog to chronicle her experiences with daughter Issy Stapleton, 14, remained hospitalized in Grand Rapids, Mich., late Wednesday. Police said she tried to kill herself and Issy on Tuesday in the Lake Michigan shoreline community of Elberta, near Frankfort.

Authorities found and rescued Kelli and Issy from a van. Both were unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Kelli Stapleton and her husband Matt shared their harrowing story of life with Issy, an intelligent but abusive autistic child, in a February story in the Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle.

Issy often attacked her mother and a sibling, and her parents continually ran into roadblocks with insurance companies, treatment facilities and various government agencies in a quest for help that devastated them emotionally and financially.

"She is a great kid with a lot of potential," Kelli told the newspaper in February. "She's so smart. She started reading when she was two. She’s got so much to offer, but her aggression is going to limit her life as much as anything."

Kelli Stapleton rallied neighbors and strangers alike through her blog, "The Status Woe," with family stories of challenge and heartbreak. Issy's attacks twice sent Kelli to hospital emergency rooms, and Kelli voiced fear for Issy's siblings, particularly a sister.

"I felt like I needed witnesses," she said in her earlier interview. "If I didn’t survive this situation, I wanted people to know that I was a good mom and I did everything I could do, and I asked for help from all these resources. … I’m grateful people read it and wanted to help."

Her husband Matt, principal at Frankfort High School and the school's athletic director and varsity football coach, declined comment.

Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson said she authorized a felony attempted murder charge in the case, but would not confirm Kelli Stapleton as the suspect nor her daughter as the victim. The mother is expected to be arraigned yet this week in 85th District Court.

Swanson said family members reported the woman, 45, and her daughter missing on Tuesday. An extensive search conducted by sheriff's deputies and Michigan State Police eventually located them in a parked, full-size van on Tuesday about 6:30 p.m. in a remote area.

State police Lt. Kip Belcher said two portable charcoal grills were burning inside the vehicle and the woman and child were unconscious when authorities came upon it. He said the van's windows were shut and investigators believe the woman tried to kill herself and her daughter.

The mother and daughter both suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning and were taken to a local hospital being transferred to a Grand Rapids.

Belcher said the woman is expected to fully recover, but the girl may have suffered permanent brain damage. He said doctors should have a better grasp of the teen's condition today.

Matt Troutman writes for The Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle.