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Candlelight vigil draws 200 to Watson Park; officials issue statement confirming the remains found in Massachusetts are those of Elijah Lewis

By Dean Shalhoup - Senior Staff Reporter | Oct 25, 2021

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Emotions ran high among the roughly 200 people of all ages who turned out for Sunday night's candlelight vigil in memory of 5-year-old Merrimack boy Elijah Lewis, whose remains were found Saturday in Massachusetts. (Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP)

MERRIMACK — Just about the same time as a relative of Elijah “Eli” Lewis was speaking through tears to roughly 200 people at Sunday evening’s candlelight vigil memorializing the 5-year-old boy, the newest development in a case that’s featured several of them in fairly rapid succession was being made public by a top law enforcement official.

First Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell’s dispatch confirmed what officials had suspected since a cadaver dog located human remains Saturday in a wooded area of Abington, Massachusetts: That the remains are those of Elijah.

Dr. Richard Atkinson, an associate in the office of the Massachusetts chief Medical Examiner, performed the autopsy, and made the positive identification using dental records.

What remains under investigation, however, is both the cause, and manner, of Eli’s death, Morrell said, adding that “further toxicology testing and further investigation” are necessary before a ruling can be made.

Morrell also said that it is “likely that it will be a few months before there is a specific determination” of the cause and manner of Eli’s death.

Courtesy photo A photo of Elijah "Eli" Lewis, the 5-year-old Merrimack boy whose remains were found Saturday in the woods in Abington, Massachusetts. (Courtesy photo)

No additional charges are anticipated, Morrell added, until the findings are complete.

Meanwhile, MJ Morrison, an aunt of Elijah’s oldest brother, stood at the edge of the bandstand at Merrimack’s Watson Park to address those who turned out for the vigil.

“I’d like to take a minute to thank the authorities, who worked around the clock, tirelessly, since the day they were alerted that Eli was missing,” Morrison said.

“We’re beyond grateful for every second you put into the search.”

Participants, most dressed in layers to ward off the chill typical of a late October evening, held onto a variety of candles in several sizes and shapes ranging from “tea lights” and battery-operated “flames” to tall, white tapers typically displayed in houses of worship.

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Some of the estimated 200 people who turned out for Sunday evening's candlelight vigil in memory of Elijah Lewis hold aloft candles during the playing of an acoustic version of "Over the Rainbow." (Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP)

Morrison spoke of the “sky blue” ribbons — “Eli’s favorite color” — that volunteers tied into bows over the past several days, many of which have been gradually appearing on trees, posts, fences and other fixtures since Eli went missing.

The timing of the vigil also comes during a period of transition in a case that’s fueled wide-ranging emotions since the first signs of unusually heavy police activity became visible at the lakeside residence some 10 days ago.

Beginning late Thursday, Oct. 14, and throughout Friday and the weekend, neighbors, at once curious and concerned, began watching from their windows while others gathered in driveways and on decks and porches on Sunset Drive, Dawn Avenue and sections of High Noon and Ingham roads, small streets that make up the neighborhood that overlooks the eastern shore of Naticook Lake.

Upon receiving Saturday’s update that it’s very likely the remains of a child found in the woods in Abington, Massachusetts are those of Eli, Morrison said the purpose of the Facebook group started by family members and close friends was initially “to help find Elijah.”

But in light of the new developments, Morrison said the group has shifted the focus to “Justice for Eli” as the next phase of the investigation gets underway.

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP MJ Morrison, an aunt of Elijah Lewis's oldest brother, begins to address the roughly 200 people who turned out at Watson Park in Merrimack for Sunday evening's vigil in memory of Elijah Lewis. (Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP)

She also said time for members of his extended family “to process this … to be with our families and grieve.”

Compounding the mix of anguish, sadness and distress for those close to Eli is the fact his mother and her companion have been charged with crimes related to his disappearance, and the looming possibility they may also face additional charges.

Over the weekend, Morrill and fellow First Assistant Attorney General Ben Agati said at separate news conferences that any future charges filed in Eli’s death will be determined as part of the investigation.

They stressed that neither Eli’s mother, Danielle Dauphinais, 35, and Joseph Stapf, 30, have been charged with any new offenses beyond the witness tampering and endangering the welfare of a child charges on which they were arrested in The Bronx, New York, about a week ago.

They were returned to New Hampshire, and appeared in Superior Court via video from Valley Street jail in Manchester. Both waived formal arraignment and were ordered held pending their next court appearances in December.

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP MJ Morrison, an aunt of Elijah Lewis's oldest brother, holds aloft a portrait of Elijah during Sunday evening's candlelight vigil at Watson Park in Merrimack. Roughly 200 people of all ages turned out for the event. (Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP)

In announcing Saturday that human remains had been discovered in Abington, Morrell, along with Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz and Massachusetts state police Col. Christopher Mason, said investigators had received “new information” late Thursday that led them to the search site along Chestnut Street, which borders the Ames Nowell State Park in the northern Plymouth County town of 17,000.

They declined to elaborate on the nature of the information, as well as who provided it.

They wouldn’t confirm, or comment on, speculation that Dauphinais or Stapf, or both of them, provided the information.

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.


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