National News

September 6, 2013

Woman accused of trying to kill autistic daughter

DETROIT — A northern Michigan mother — who had chronicled in an online blog the challenges her family faced caring for their autistic 14-year-old daughter — has been charged in a warrant with attempted murder in what police believe was a failed attempt at killing herself and the girl.

Kelli Stapleton, 45, was expected to be arraigned in the coming days after her release Thursday from a Grand Rapids hospital where she was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Police said she and her daughter, Isabelle, were found Tuesday evening unconscious in the family’s van in a rural part of Benzie County. Coals had been burned in the van and the windows were rolled up, state police Lt. Kip Belcher told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Two holes were burned in the van’s carpeting.

“The officers could tell immediately that the mother had been successful in generating the carbon monoxide,” Belcher said.

In a statement posted Thursday on Facebook and emailed to media, Matt Stapleton said their daughter remained hospitalized and unconscious after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning.

She was being treated at a Grand Rapids children’s hospital.

Matt Stapleton had reported his wife and their oldest daughter missing Tuesday afternoon after receiving a phone message from Kelli and discovering the van was gone from their home in Elberta, a small community along Lake Michigan and about 30 miles west of Traverse City.

“He took that as a disconcerting message ... despondent,” Belcher said.

After police found the van, mother and daughter were rushed to a hospital in Traverse and later moved to Grand Rapids for specialized care. Kelli Stapleton was taken Thursday to the Benzie County Jail.

Isabelle remained in critical condition, according to her father.

“She is currently receiving help from a respirator and breathing tube, and her blood pressure is stable,” Matt Stapleton wrote in his email to media. “At this time, she is still unresponsive after being lifted from the medically induced coma she was put in for the treatment of her injuries.”

Earlier this year, the family told the Traverse City Record-Eagle about their struggles with medical insurance and state and local agencies as they sought care for their then-13-year-old daughter. They said her acute autism at times led to violent outbursts from Isabelle. Kelli Stapleton was injured and hospitalized twice.

The couple said a center for autism training and research near Kalamazoo told them their daughter could need as much as eight months of treatment to decrease her aggressive behavior, but the financial cost would be high.

So, Isabelle was put into a monthlong program at the center in January.

“She is a great kid with a lot of potential,” Kelli Stapleton told the newspaper. “She’s so smart. She started reading when she was 2. She’s got so much to offer, but her aggression is going to limit her life as much as anything.”

Isabelle’s outbursts primarily were targeted at her mother and younger sister. An older brother and her father missed most of it.

“When I was home ... I’d be with her most of the time because of the aggressive nature,” Matt Stapleton told the newspaper. “By the end, I was as much of a target as anybody. Of course, I can defend myself a little differently.

“She’s gotten to that point where she can’t help herself. She’s hurting herself and she’s hurting others. She’ll always be autistic and she’ll always be with us, but unless we’re able to get some help for some of these behaviors she has, I don’t even know how to predict how the next 20 years will look like.”

Kelli Stapleton chronicled the family’s pains and successes in her blog called “The Status Woe.”

“If she was permanently broken, maybe we could have given up at some point,” Kelli told the Record-Eagle. “But she’s really not.”


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