Community members and village officials gathered Wednesday evening to reflect on “one of the most difficult moments to ever happen” in the community after a father was charged with drowning his three children at a Round Lake Beach home on Monday.
The gathering was held Wednesday evening inside the Round Lake Beach Cultural and Civic Center.
Over five dozen community members joined village officials like Round Lake Beach Mayor Scott Nickles and Round Lake Beach Police Chief Gilbert Rivera to support and talk to each other.
Nickles, who is a former police officer and a father, said the triple murder that occurred Monday evening in the 200 block of East Camden Lane in Round Lake Beach “crushed” him.
“While this tragedy has touched us today, Round Lake Beach is made up of strong people and strong families. As we breathe today, we will persevere tomorrow,” Nickles said.
“But for now, hug your friends, lean on your neighbors and counsel one another as we begin the process of grieving together.”
Jason E. Karels, 35, of the residence, was charged Tuesday morning with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his three children: Gideon Karels, age 2; Cassidy Karels, age 3; and Bryant Karels, age 5.
Nickles said there are no words to express his condolences to Karel’s family and he urged the community to reach out to him personally if they need help.
Rivera thanked the public as the homicide investigation unfolded.
“I requested this gathering to personally thank you, the community, for your support, patience and understanding during one of the most difficult moments to ever happen in our community,” Rivera said.
“I assume many of you have a deep desire to do something – anything – to show support and relay a message of love, kindness, empathy and compassion. That’s why we are gathered here today.”
“We will not forget these three angels: Bryant, Cassidy and Gideon,” Rivera said, choking up.
Reverend Tim Perry, who is the president of Nationwide Chaplain Services, called first responders “warriors,” and the crowd gave a round of applause to the several Round Lake Beach police officers standing in the back of the room.
Members of the community later had the opportunity to engage in dialogue and share their reactions to the triple murder.
Debbie Karels, the mother of the three children, spoke with news reporters Wednesday afternoon and said, “I just wish I was there for them that day. I just wish I was there to grab them before this all happened.”
Debbie said her husband physically and mentally abused her and that he killed their children because “he knew that would hurt me the most.”
She said she was planning on doing joint custody at first but changed her mind and decided she would seek full custody because her husband had been mentally ill.
Debbie Karels went to her husband’s residence to pick up her children, who were spending the weekend with their father, for a doctor’s visit on Monday.
Rivera said during a press conference that the mother went into the home and found her three children dead in a bedroom.
Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Jeffrey Facklam said during a bond hearing Wednesday that police found a note in the house that said, “If I can’t have them neither can you,” referring to the children.
Karels was still married to his wife but they were separated, police said.
After Karels’ arrest, he made statements admitting to killing his three children.
He later gave a detailed statement to investigators about how he drowned each child one by one in a bathtub, Facklam said.
Karels said during the bond hearing that he could not afford a lawyer and was seeking a public defender.
Facklam asked Lake County Judge Theodore Potkonjak to order Karels held without bond.
Potkonjak ordered Karels held on a $10 million bond.
According to Rivera, the Round Lake Beach police issued an alert to area police departments across the Chicago area following the triple murder.
Illinois State Police spotted Karels’ red 2010 Nissan Maxima and attempted a traffic stop on him.
Karels refused to stop and led officers on a 17-minute high-speed pursuit where he crashed into a heavily wooded area on Interstate 80 near Water Street in Joliet.
Karels had to be extricated from the vehicle by firefighters.
Officers wearing bodycams captured Karels admitting to killing his three kids.
Rivera said that Karels had attempted suicide multiple times leading up to his arrest, including at the crime scene at his residence where investigators found a “significant amount” of blood that did not belong to his kids.
Karels was hospitalized and police said Tuesday evening he had been released from the hospital and transported to the Lake County Jail.
Lake County Chief Deputy Coroner Steve Newton said preliminary autopsies on Gideon, Cassidy and Bryant indicate they died from drowning.
No other substantial injuries were evident on the children, Newton said. Toxicology results are pending.
Rivera said officers did not a history with Karels or the family.
“We are all touched by this. This is not something you go to and are unaffected by. What they [officers] saw yesterday is something no one should have to see,” Rivera said during a press conference Tuesday.
Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said this is a “devasting case for our community.
“We are resolved to achieve justice for these three innocent children. First, we need to ensure that the defendant is not released pending trial considering the nature of the case and his flight. We have filed a motion asking he be held without bond,” Rinehart said.
“Second, we need to give any and every resource available to the family. Finally, within the office, we will devote everything necessary to make sure this brutal crime is punished, and that this defendant never ever harms anyone again,” Rinehart added.
Lake County Board Member Dick Barr said Monday evening that the three children were “taken from this earth by unspeakable evil.”
“That unspeakable evil existed in the heart and mind of the man who so heinously took the lives of three of his own children,” Barr said.
“This was not a criminal act that is emblematic of who we are or where we live, rather a selfish soul, void of humanity, void of compassion, void of mental well being, who cared more about himself than he did about his own children,” Barr said.
“As heart broken as I am, I am equally angry. I’m angry that this coward is not dead while his innocent children are stacked up at the morgue and his estranged wife weeps with sorrow no human alive should ever have to endure,” he added.
Barr, a Round Lake Beach resident, said he started a GoFundMe account to help raise money for the mother of the children.
The fundraiser has already collected more than $65,000 in a day and continues to grow.
Authorities said additional charges are possible against Karels, who remains held in the Lake County Jail.
He is scheduled to appear in court again on Tuesday for a bond review hearing and on July 13 for a preliminary hearing.
The incident remains under investigation by the Round Lake Beach Police Department.