Lifestyle & Human Interest

Body of Boy, 6, Found in Trunk of Mother's Car During Traffic Stop After Family Warns He's in Danger


Editor’s Note: Our readers responded strongly to this story when it originally ran; we’re reposting it here in case you missed it.

A community in Minneapolis has been torn by grief and rage after police made a horrifying discovery.

On May 20, police pulled over Julissa Thaler’s car with a flat tire and a smashed back window in Mound, Minnesota — but when they approached the vehicle, they spotted blood inside.

As they continued to investigate, they found a shotgun shell, a spent casing and a bullet hole inside the car, according to USA Today.

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But the worst find was stowed away in the trunk, hidden like garbage: the body of six-year-old Eli Hart, who had been shot multiple times.

As news of the tragic find circulated and the investigation continued, heartbreaking details started to come forward.

At the time of Eli’s death, his biological father, Tory Hart, was fighting for custody of his son. Eli had spent nearly a year in foster care after his mother, Julissa Thaler, failed to care for him properly, but he was returned to her care in December.

People close to the boy saw him turn into a different person after being returned to Thaler.

Formerly, the boy was known as happy and patient, with dreams of becoming a firefighter someday. But now he was misbehaving in school, dealing with anxiety issues, stuttering and using baby talk.

Hart contacted county social workers, fearing that his son was being both mentally and emotionally abused, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Investigators say that six days after Hart filed for custody, Thaler purchased a shotgun and learned how to use it. Thaler was charged with second-degree murder.

Nikita Kronberg, who is a family member and was Eli’s foster mother for 11 months, saw the warning signs, and she repeatedly tried to get Eli removed from his mother’s care.

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“I told the social worker and the guardian that I was worried that she would kill Eli to prevent his father from getting custody,” Kronberg said. “I expressed those fears numerous times, and it was clearly brushed aside.”

Even Thaler’s father, knowing her history of mental health issues and substance abuse, said he’d tried without success to keep Eli from her.

“I gave the judge her detailed mental health history,” Thaler’s father said. “I told him that she was displaying paranoia and auditory hallucinations. I said I feared for Eli’s safety. It all fell on deaf ears.

“Tory was the parent that Eli deserved. He is the guy you want raising your grandchild.”

Hart’s fiancée, Josie Josephson, said that Eli had loved his father and that this loss has been devastating — especially because they’d fought so hard to keep him safe.

“Eli was a very happy, energetic six-year-old boy,” Josephson told WNBC. “He loved his dad immensely. His eyes would light up when he saw his dad.

“Although Eli wasn’t biologically my own, I fought side by side with Tory to try to get him custody of him; in my heart he was my own son. We expressed our concerns numerous times.”

Multiple local memorials have popped up as the community processes the horrendous incident. Many are now pushing for reform, and Kronberg told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the social workers “failed this child big-time,” according to WNBC.

Within a year, four separate social workers were assigned to the boy’s case. Family members concerned for Eli’s safety were sending up to 15 emails daily and getting little to no response, stated the Star Tribune.

“Our hearts go out to the family,” Mound Mayor Ray Salazar told KARE. “For myself, and I’m sure I share with all of our great citizens in our city, it’s a horrible, horrifying situation … You can’t imagine the pain that this family must be going through, Tory, Eli’s family.”

Along with Julissa Thaler, a 27-year-old male was also taken into custody. A GoFundMe was set up to raise funds to give Eli a proper funeral.

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