GLEN HAVEN, Mich. — A 12-hour search for a man wanted on a domestic violence charge and his three young children ended when rescuers found them clambering down a hillside in a national park in Michigan, leaving baffled authorities searching for answers.
“I feared for the worst,” Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said Monday night. “It all turned out well, but something was wrong with this picture.”
The children — the man’s 14- and 10-year-old daughters and his 9-year-old son — were exhausted, famished and covered with mosquito bites but otherwise unharmed when they were discovered at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the sheriff said.
The children said they knew there was a helicopter looking for them and that they had been hiding all day, Borkovich’s office said on a blog posting today.
The 50-year-old father faces a domestic violence complaint that his wife filed in Emmet County, where the family had been visiting friends and relatives, the sheriff said. The Associated Press is not naming him because he has not been formally charged. The family lives in Orchard Lake, a Detroit suburb.
He was jailed overnight. Petoskey District Court said a magistrate will set the father’s bond today, but no court hearing will be scheduled until Wednesday at the earliest.
No other charges were expected, Borkovich said.
The children had been given nothing to eat or drink since breakfast Sunday morning, he said. They arrived that afternoon at the lakeshore in the northwest corner of Lower Michigan, about 280 miles northwest of Detroit, and spent the night in the woods with no tent. A heavy rainstorm drenched the area Monday morning, and the remainder of the day was hot and muggy.
The man got into a conflict with his wife Sunday, Borkovich said. She filed a complaint against him with the Emmet County sheriff’s department, which issued a misdemeanor warrant the next day.
The man’s wife told Emmet County authorities that her husband had forced her out of the car Sunday morning, then drove away with the children, according to the Leelanau County sheriff’s office blog.
“She said she was concerned for the welfare of her children because of her husband’s mental state but did not believe he would harm them,” the posting said. She filed a missing person’s report.
The children told their rescuers they’d been on a camping trip, said Phil Akers, chief ranger at the national lakeshore.
“They didn’t appear to have a lot of supplies or equipment with them,” Akers said. The park’s terrain is a mixture of towering dunes and swampy woodlands thick with trees and undergrowth.
A park ranger spotted a car with a dented door parked near the Coast Guard Maritime Heritage Museum Monday morning. Borkovich said the ranger ran a check on the license plate and learned there was an alert for the vehicle, touching off a manhunt.
Parts of the lakeshore were closed to the public as crews walked the Lake Michigan shoreline and combed wetlands and inland ridges. The search involved dozens of personnel from the Michigan State Police, the national park, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Leelanau County and Grand Traverse County sheriff’s departments. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter team searched by air.
Reinforcements from volunteer fire departments and other agencies arrived Monday night and began combing the area more systematically. The family was found about an hour later, walking down a sandy hillside.
Borkovich told The Associated Press today that the man and his children knew the helicopter was searching for them and that they were “flushed out” as the ground searchers came close.
“We saw no criminal intent,” Borkovich said afterward. “It didn’t look like the subject was going to flee to Chicago with the kids or out west or to Mexico. It didn’t look like he planned to harm them in any way. The spouse said he loves his kids and they love him. We got good word from his side of the family that he’s a very gentle person and no problems.”