DETROIT — "I have to admit that I'm suffering from a severe case of battle fatigue," Kelli Stapleton wrote Tuesday in a lengthy post on her blog, where she chronicled life with her autistic daughter.
That evening, Stapleton and Isabelle, the 14-year-old daughter she calls Issy in blog posts, were found unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning in a van. Authorities have accused Stapleton, 45, of trying to kill them both in a murder-suicide, charging the mother with attempted murder on Thursday.
As Isabelle remained hospitalized and unconscious Thursday, investigators were still trying to determine a motive and say it's not yet clear whether Stapleton's challenges with her daughter — written in heartbreaking detail in regular posts on her blog, the Status Woe — were a factor. But mental health experts agree that caring for a relative with special needs can be difficult, leading people to feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Stapleton is jailed without bond in northern Michigan. She was arraigned Thursday in a Benzie County court on one count of attempted murder after being released from the hospital.
Lt. Kip Belcher of the Michigan State Police Cadillac Post said Thursday that Isabelle's condition had improved slightly at DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids. But medical personnel are concerned about the possibility of brain damage, he said.
"Within the last 12 to 24 hours, there's been some responsive behavior noted," Belcher said. "She hasn't opened her eyes yet or talked or anything like that. But there's some physical movement to indicate responsiveness."
The Stapletons live in Elberta, west of Traverse City. Belcher said Stapleton's husband called authorities around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday after receiving a disturbing phone message from his wife and noticing the family van was missing.
Benzie County sheriff's deputies found the van about 6:30 p.m. in a wooded area not far from their home, Belcher said. Two portable charcoal grills were positioned between the front seats and the first row of bench seats, he said. The windows were rolled up.
Defense attorney Anthony Cicchelli has declined to comment on the case.
Belcher said it's premature to speculate on a motive but noted that coping with a family member with special needs may have "promoted an extreme degree of stress."
Birmingham-based psychiatrist Gerald Shiener said caregiver fatigue can be a difficult problem for those who are in charge of a disabled relative.
"It can be overwhelming," he said. "It can cause severe depressive symptoms and cause a depressive syndrome, with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness."
Caregivers also may struggle with feelings of being ostracized or isolated, said Judy Kotzen, medical social worker for Beaumont Health System.
It's important for caregivers to set aside time for themselves and seek help when needed, Shiener said.
"When a caregiver neglects themselves, that's when they get overwhelmed, that's when they feel guilty, that's then they feel a sense of resentment, that's when they get discouraged … and that's when something bad happens," he said.
Stapleton's successes and challenges raising Isabelle are chronicled on the Status Woe, where she posted both a hopeful message Tuesday when her daughter came home from treatment and another later in the day expressing her devastation upon learning her daughter wouldn't be able to attend school as planned.
"So much love…" she wrote of picking Issy up from treatment and the joy of her being home.
Later that day, she wrote of a meeting earlier in the week with the special education teacher at the school Issy was to attend, where her father is principal.
Stapleton had a heated argument with the teacher about Issy's school plan, she wrote. A little later, district officials told the family Issy could no longer attend, and she should be homeschooled, according to the post.
"So less than a week before school is to start, she is uninvited," Stapleton wrote. "I am devastated. My husband is gutted. I have ruined everything. I should have stroked egos. … With this teacher, I pushed when I should have pulled, bobbed when I should have weaved, bit when I should have kissed."
She wrote that Issy would attend a different school, pleaded with people to be helpful to parents and asked for insight from other parents.
"There is so much more to say," it reads at the end. "I'm just too tired to write more. All my love, Kelli."