2013-08-29 / Local News

Day-long search turns up wanted father, children

By Patti Brandt
of the Enterprise staff


LEELANAU COUNTY Sheriff Michael Borkovich takes part in Monday’s search for Daniel G. Elliott and his three children that took place over 12 hours in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The family, which had apparently been hiding from police for most of the day, was found hungry and thirsty but OK at about 8 p.m. 
Don Miller Photo LEELANAU COUNTY Sheriff Michael Borkovich takes part in Monday’s search for Daniel G. Elliott and his three children that took place over 12 hours in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The family, which had apparently been hiding from police for most of the day, was found hungry and thirsty but OK at about 8 p.m. Don Miller Photo Daniel G. Elliott, the 50-year-old Orchard Lake man who kept his three children in forested, dune and swampy areas in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for more than 24 hours with no food, water or shelter, is not facing local charges — as of yet.

Elliott was arraigned in 90th District Court in Emmet County yesterday on one charge of domestic violence. In Leelanau County, prosecuting attorney Joseph T. Hubbell has not filed charges against Elliott.

“I have not received any requests to do so from any law enforcement officer regarding the facts of this case,” said Hubbell, who said he would need more information on the condition of the children before making a decision.


ELLIOTT ELLIOTT A cash bond has been set for Elliott at $100,000, with a pretrial conference set for Sept. 11. As of press time, Elliott remained in the Emmet County Jail.

If Elliott does post bond, he is to have no contact with his wife or children, and is not to leave the county, said Emmet County Sheriff Pete Wallin.

Wallin said there will be no other Emmet County charges filed against Elliott, as there were no custody issues with the family and that both parents had full rights to the children. Besides the original domestic violence charge, all other incidents took place in Leelanau County, he said.

The domestic violence charge stems from Elliott’s actions on Sunday night, when he allegedly pushed his estranged wife and the children’s mother, Jessie, out of the car and drove off with his 14- and 10-year-old daughters and a 9-year-old son.

His actions set off a search that would last 12 hours, with Elliott and the children spending the night in the Lakeshore, and hiding from a Coast Guard helicopter that was engaged in the search.

Wallin said the couple was separated, but visiting friends together in the Petoskey area. Elliott lives in Orchard Lake, in West Bloomfield Charter Township; Jessie lives in Bloomfield Hills, Wallin said.

Jessie filed a missing persons report, telling police that she was concerned for the welfare of her children because of her husband’s mental state. She also told police she didn’t believe her husband would harm them.

When the children were found at about 8 p.m. Monday, they had not eaten in 35 hours, were showing signs of dehydration and were covered with mosquito bites, said Sheriff Michael Borkovich. Their last meal had been pancakes at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, Borkovich said.

Despite that, it was a search that Borkovich said ended happily, calling the incident in televised news reports a “rogue camping trip” in which Elliott had made some bad decisions by not taking along camping gear or food for the children.

“It all turned out really well, that’s the really good thing,” said Borkovich, who said he has been inundated with media calls, including from Good Morning America, since the incident.

After being checked by Glen Lake Fire Department paramedics, the children were found to be in good health and were turned over to their mother, Borkovich said.

The search started at about 7:20 Monday morning, when park rangers spotted the 2013 BMW Elliott had been driving parked near the Maritime Museum in Glen Haven. The vehicle had been entered into a national database by Emmet County as being associated with Elliott and the three missing children.

When rangers could not locate the family, they requested help from the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office. Also involved was the Michigan State Police, including K-9 tracking dogs, the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office, and the U.S. Coast Guard, which assisted with air support throughout the day. The FBI was also on scene, and searchers included about 35 volunteer fire fighters from county departments.

After getting permission from Jessie Elliott, who owns the vehicle, the BMW was searched for evidence such as large amounts of food, water and batteries, Borkovich.

“We were looking for anything that would indicate that they were planning on staying in the woods for a long time,” Borkovich said.

At one point in the search a call came over the police scanner requesting a Bible. The call set off lots of speculation, Borkovich said, but the request did not pertain to the search.

The search ended at about 8 p.m. when a deputy saw the family walking toward him, about 40 minutes after the helicopter search was called off. Elliott was arrested and taken back to Emmet County on Monday night.

When found, the children told police they knew the Coast Guard helicopter was looking for them and they stayed hidden to avoid being seen. One daughter had a cell phone that had been turned off, making it impossible for police to use its GPS to track the family.

Temperatures hovered around 90 degrees while searchers looked for the family, concentrating in the area north of Dune Valley Road and west of M-109.

The Dune Climb and part of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail and Sleeping Bear Drive were closed to facilitate the search.

Borkovich said he has not begun to assess the costs of the search, which tied up personnel from several agencies for most of the day.

“It’s hard to put a number on it,” he said. “It’s a lot of money ... We’re just glad everything turned out the way it did. Of course, we have to be prepared for anything.”

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