ELBERTA — Residents of the Lake Michigan shoreline communities of Frankfort and Elberta buzzed about a local woman’s apparent murder-suicide attempt involving her autistic daughter as they milled through Elberta’s picturesque Farmers Market.
Few wanted to speak on the record as they shopped for fresh fruits and vegetables under Thursday’s late summer sun, less than a day after authorities said Kelli Stapleton tried to kill herself and her autistic teenage daughter Issy.
But everyone who had heard the news said they were surprised and saddened by the crime Kelli Stapleton is accused of committing.
Emily Votruba described Kelli and her husband Matt Stapleton as beloved by residents of Frankfort and Elberta while she sat at a shaded wooden picnic table near the farmers market.
Just pillars of the community, she said. “The kind of people who make you feel good being here.”
Kelli Stapleton is full of “love, life and energy” and loved her children, Votruba said.
She and Matt Stapleton are deeply involved in the Frankfort-Elbera community. Matt is principal, athletic director and a coach for multiple sports at Frankfort High School, and a member of the Elberta Village Council. Kelli is a member of the village’s planning council.
A Benzie County sheriff’s deputy found Kelli and Issy unconscious inside a sealed vehicle with two portable charcoal grills on Tuesday afternoon. Kelli Stapleton has since been arrested and Issy is being treated for carbon monoxide poisoning at a Grand Rapids area hospital.
News of the chilling discovery came as a shock to barber Joel Joslin, who works in a shop in the heart of Elberta.
“Nobody really expects anything like this to happen,” Joslin said as he trimmed a customer’s hair.
“Not around here,” said Iris Busch, the customer.
Jim Barnes, owner of El Berto’s Taqueria, said he couldn’t imagine Kelli committing such a crime.
“She doesn’t seem to fit the profile of a cold-blooded murderer or anything of that nature,” Barnes said. “The community will be sympathetic and understanding and would just never fit her into that profile.”
Joslin, a native of the Frankfort-Elberta area, called the community “tight-knit” and “supportive” -- local fundraising efforts this year generated thousands of dollars to help the Stapletons send Issy to the Great Lakes Center for Autism Treatment and Research.
Joslin, Votruba and others said the community will again lend help and support to the Stapletons. Friends of the family on Thursday already began to coordinate efforts to provide them with meals and help with chores.
“There’s been an outpouring of people wanting to help any way they can,” said Tom Stobie, superintendent of Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools, where Matt Stapleton has worked for about 14 years. “We appreciate that and the family appreciates that.”