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Published: Sunday, 8/24/2003

Toledoans reel from child stabbings

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Most of the time, Eric Harmon was friendly and smiling, quick to help the retirees who lived nearby, neighbors said yesterday.

But the lanky, 32-year-old Toledoan had a dangerous side, they added, a contention backed up by police and court records.

“He was decent. He was nice. But he had a funny look in his eye,” said Gerry Freeman, who lives next door. “And he had a temper.”

Mr. Harmon, of the 6000 block of Secor Road, was in serious condition yesterday in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center after a bloody rampage early Friday. He is accused of stabbing his live-in girlfriend's 4-year-old daughter to death, stabbing his own 2-month-old son, and then stabbing himself. He also apparently tried to hang himself.

“I don't know how he could have taken that girl in the garage, looked in her eyes, and killed her,” Mrs. Freeman said.

Skylar Burnard, a perky and bright girl who had been looking forward to her first day of school tomorrow, died in the attack and Gavin Harmon, the infant son of Mr. Harmon and Nicole Miller, was on a ventilator and listed in critical condition yesterday at Toledo Hospital.

Mrs. Freeman's husband, Bob, said Ms. Miller rang his doorbell and then banged on the door of his Morrell Drive home about 4:15 a.m. Friday.

“By the time I got to the door, [Mr. Harmon and Ms. Miller] were in the street, arguing - which is not an uncommon thing around here,” Mr. Freeman said. “She had the girl by the hand and they were heading back to their house, so I went back to bed.”

Five minutes later, police received a 911 call on a report of domestic violence. Mr. Harmon reportedly was “drunk and going crazy,” police Chief Mike Navarre said.

By the time officers arrived, Mr. Harmon had taken the children into a detached garage and stabbed them both, police said.

Dan Halsey, 64, who lives across the street from the suspect, said Mr. Harmon often came over “just to chitchat.”

“As far as I know, he was a friendly guy,” Mr. Halsey said. “I'd see him out in the yard with the little girl, or walking the dog.”

He said Mr. Harmon used to help him by spraying his lawn for weeds and aided another retiree on the block with yard work. He also said Mr. Harmon was so proud of being a parent that he took Gavin around the neighborhood to show him off shortly after his birth.

But Mr. Halsey said Mr. Harmon held many loud, late-night parties.

“There was a lot of noise and the neighbors would call the cops,” he said.

Mr. Harmon has had a number of run-ins with police over the years.

Since 1991, he has been charged with assault eight times and with menacing seven times, according to police and Toledo Municipal Court records.

In January, 2001, Mr. Harmon was arrested for violating a temporary restraining order.

He also was convicted of felony theft in 1990 and driving under the influence in 1993.

The investigation into Friday's tragedy is ongoing, Detective Sgt. Tim Noble said yesterday. Mr. Harmon has been charged with murder, but arraignment has not been scheduled.

According to police records, after they received the 911 call, Mr. Harmon tried to barricade himself, Ms. Miller, and the children inside the house. Ms. Miller escaped by climbing through a bathroom window with Gavin in her arms, and unsuccessfully tried to coax Skylar to follow.

Mr. Harmon took Skylar outside and confronted Ms. Miller, then grabbed the children and took them into the garage, police said.

Ms. Miller's grandfather, Larry Miller, arrived at the scene and opened the garage door with a key, but the stabbings already had taken place. Skylar died at Toledo Hospital.

Somber family members and friends of the victims gathered yesterday at Larry and Michele Miller's West Toledo home.

“We are doing as well as can be expected,” Mrs. Miller said. She and the rest of the family would not discuss the attacks and declined to comment on her daughter's relationship with Mr. Harmon.

Ms. Miller, 26, is a graduate of Notre Dame Academy and earned a master's degree in educational psychology from the University of Toledo, family members said.

Her Secor Road house is right around the corner from a Morrell Drive house that is owned by Mr. Harmon. He moved into Ms. Miller's home sometime last year, according to neighbors.

The Rev. Joseph J. Przybysz, pastor of St. Hedwig Catholic Church on Lagrange Street, said he has been a friend of the Millers and Burnards for 25 years.He said Nicole is leaning on her faith and on the support of her family and friends.

Father Przybysz said he plans “to celebrate Skylar's new life” at the funeral, scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Christ the King Church. He said he plans to cite the Bible verse Matthew 19:14 in which Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”



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