FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A man and his 4-year-old son are dead — two lives snuffed out, two families heartbroken.
And now questions are swirling about what went wrong and who’s to blame.
This we know: On Friday night, after getting frantic pleas from the boy’s mother to check on her son, police found the bodies of John Michael Stacey, 47, and 4-year-old Greyson Martin Kessler in his downtown condo at Las Olas by the River.
Alison Kessler, Greyson’s mother, contacted police after getting a string of threatening texts from Stacey.
Fort Lauderdale police declined to release details Sunday, saying the case remains under investigation. Kessler’s attorney petitioned a judge to approve an emergency order Friday that would have allowed police to seize the boy. Duty Judge Michael Kaplan denied the motion Saturday, 12 hours after the child and his father were found dead.
Kessler was too distraught to speak to the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Sunday.
Her family issued this statement: “The family of Greyson Martin Kessler is devastated by the loss of our baby boy. Greyson was the kindest, smartest, most animated kid we have ever known. Greyson was the light of our lives, and the world is darker without him in it. Those who wish to help can donate to our GoFundMe.”
In the statement, the family takes aim at a system they say failed.
“Greyson’s mother, Alison Kessler, did everything she could to keep her child safe from harm,” the statement says. “We feel that the system failed us at every level, from her attorney to the police department, to the court system. There were many red flags exhibited by John Stacey that were never acted upon, even though Alison reported his bizarre and threatening behavior and went through all the proper channels. This tragedy could have been prevented if proper action had been taken to help Alison and Greyson.”
Meaghan Marro, the attorney who filed the petition for the emergency order, could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Fort Lauderdale Assistant Chief Frank Sousa declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Eric Schwartzreich, a local defense attorney, defended the judge.
The cops, not the courts, are best suited to handle a case like this because they can move much more quickly, Schwartzreich said.
“Everyone wants to look for blame,” Schwartzreich said. “The judge followed the law. He’s not clairvoyant. He can’t predict what’s going to happen. You can’t blame him in this case. You really can’t blame anyone. It’s just a tragedy.”
William Devries, a New Jersey man who has rented out his condo to Stacey for the past four years, gave police permission to enter the apartment Friday night.
“It’s a terrible situation,” Devries said. “I didn’t really know him personally. He did tell us he had a son out of wedlock and came down to Florida to share the parenting duties.”
David Raterman, an acquaintance who met Stacey not long after he moved down from New York, remembers swapping stories over coffee at the Daily Grind.
Stacey left behind his life in New York to be a father to the boy, Raterman said.
“His story is really touching,” Raterman said. “He was uprooting his life just to be near his son. I’ve never seen anyone who loves his son so much. The only reason he moved here was to be near his son.”
The details of Stacey’s life are listed on Facebook.
He graduated from Piscataway Township High School in New Jersey and later studied at Rutgers University and the New York University Stern School of Business.
He moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2017, the year his son was born.
A profile photo posted in August 2018 shows him holding his baby son, prompting comments from friends.
“Omg John, your son is absolutely adorable,” one wrote. Another wrote: “Fatherhood looks good on you, John!!” Another wrote: “God gave a beautiful gift!”
Stacey’s Facebook page shows he made four donations to the cause of suicide prevention between Jan. 15 and April 9.
Friends were reeling from the news of his death Sunday.
“It’s all pretty shocking,” said Adam Sacasa, who met Stacey through a local running group, Running For Brews. “He’s a really nice guy, really friendly. It seemed like he really loved his son.”
Sacasa remembers Stacey talking about how he met someone new back in March and had been dating.
“All of us are shocked to hear about this,” Sacasa said. “He never seemed angry or violent. John was really nice but kind of distant. He was friendly, but not many people were very close to him.”
On Saturday, Marro shared a little-known secret about Stacey’s past.
He was a Moonie at one point, recruited on a sidewalk in New York City at age 18.
He stayed a loyal member of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church for about five years — long enough to marry a woman in one of the church’s mass wedding ceremonies in 1995.
His bride was a woman from Japan handpicked by Moon.
“I got a cute bride,” he told The Washington Post in a story published in 1997. She didn’t speak English so they communicated through a translator.
He told The Washington Post he left the church in 1997 and his wife later that convinced he had been trapped in a cult.