Vigil planned in honor of Tahlequah toddler

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Updated: 11/21/2013 9:25 am Published: 11/20/2013 3:54 pm

Tahlequah police discovered a 3-year-old dead Tuesday in a Tahlequah home.

Dakota Ellison was found unresponsive at the Stepping Stone Rooming House. The child's mother, Jeri Sanders, and her husband, Buford Ellison, are behind bars without bond.

Officers said when they went to the home, they knew right away Dakota was dead. His lips were blue and he had bruises on his head, neck and back.

"I was the first one to check his pulse and I knew he was gone and it froze me and I couldn't do anything except stand there in shock," said Amber Harbeson.

Harbeson lives in the rooming house and often took care of Dakota.

"He was an amazing child, he made everyone smile, we all loved him here," she said.

She also knew his mother and her husband very well.

"We would hear them screaming at him because they didn't want him to leave the room," she said.

Sanders had her first court appearance Wednesday.

A detective testified Sanders admitted Dakota was crying for hours Tuesday morning and she couldn't take it anymore so she handed him over to her husband and walked out of the room.

The detective said she walked back in the room 15 minutes later and Ellison had him lying face down in a chair and he was no longer crying.

Hours later police were called by a neighbor who was asked to baby-sit Dakota.

"The mother confessed to knowing he was dead when she took him to the baby sitter," said Chief Nate King, with the Tahlequah Police Department.

King called the circumstances surrounding Dakota's death heinous and malicious.

"Hopefully, in the end, this 3-year-old boy that doesn't have a voice anymore has justice," he said.

Harbeson hopes for the very same thing.

"We are all missing him and we all want him back, but we aren't going to get him back. But he's better off now, he's not getting hurt. He gets to play and run and be free finally," she said.

People who live at the home said they will continue to lean on each other to get through this difficult time.

Ellison was not in court Wednesday. Police said he was incapacitated due to medical reasons. Neighbors said he has terminal cancer.

Their next court date is scheduled for Dec. 17.

Neighbors will hold a candlelight vigil for Dakota Thursday evening at 7 at Norris Park. They will work to raise money for Dakota's funeral.

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Stephny - 11/21/2013 12:31 PM
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