Minn. Boy, 6, Who Dreamed of Becoming a Firefighter, Is Found Dead in the Trunk of His Mom's Car

Minn. Boy, 6, Who Dreamed of Becoming a Firefighter, Is Found Dead in the Trunk of His Mom's Car

During a traffic stop, police said they noticed blood inside the vehicle driven by 28-year-old Julissa Thaler. Further investigation led officers to discover the little boy's body in the trunk

A Minnesota mom is behind bars after authorities allege she killed her 6-year-old son and drove around with his body stuffed in the trunk of her car.

On Friday, the Orono Police Department conducted a traffic stop in Mound, Minn., after officers witnessed a woman "driving on one rim and a shattered-out windshield," Chief Correy Farniok told reporters.

During the stop, police said they noticed blood inside the vehicle driven by 28-year-old Julissa Thaler. Further investigation led officers to discover the little boy's body in the trunk.

According to Hennepin County Jail records, Thaler is currently in custody and has formally been charged with murder. Police said another unidentified individual was also arrested.

In addition to the vehicle, investigators are processing multiple crime scenes, including an apartment and a local gas station.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

KSTP-TV reports that family members identified the victim as 6-year-old Eli Hart, a kindergartener with dreams of becoming a firefighter.

"Eli was the sweetest kid. Very kind. Anyone who knew Eli just fell in love with him," Josie Josephson, the fiancée of Eli's father, explained to the station. "He was always happy, full of energy, full of questions, very inquisitive. He loved to play with Matchbox cars. Recently, he learned how to fish."

According to court records obtained by PEOPLE, Thaler and Eli's father, Tory Hart, were in the middle of a custody battle.

The boy was previously in custody of social services, after Dakota County filed a Child in Need of Protection or Service petition on his behalf in January 2021. Josephson said Eli spent 457 days between county custody and family foster care.

"During that time, we worked closely with Dakota County. They allowed us to be involved in Eli's (life). He was allowed visits with us, unsupervised visits," she said.

According to a GoFundMe campaign organized to help cover Eli's funeral costs, he spent 11 months living with extended family members, but in December 2021, a judge allowed Eli to return to his mother's care for a home trial.

"Due to many red flags Eli's mother was showing, Tory tried extremely hard to get custody of Eli," the fundraiser description alleged. "Numerous parties made many statements to CPS, fearing that mom would harm Eli if full custody were returned. Sadly, full custody was returned on May 10, 2022."

Citing Dakota County court documents, WCCO-TV also reports that although social workers expressed their worry over Thaler's lengthy history of traffic violations, inability to maintain stable housing, and mental health concerns, she was still granted sole custody two weeks before Eli was found murdered.

A judge set Thaler's bail at $2 million. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday. It wasn't immediately clear if she had retained an attorney or entered a plea.
Minn. Boy, 6, Who Dreamed of Becoming a Firefighter, Is Found Dead in the Trunk of His Mom's Car
4/ 5
Oleh