NYC police arrest NH couple in connection with missing Merrimack boy

·3 min read

Oct. 18—Police in New York City arrested the mother of Merrimack 5-year-old Elijah "Eli" Lewis and her companion on Sunday as authorities continued their search for the missing 5-year-old in New Hampshire.

New York Transit police arrested Danielle Denise Dauphinais, 35, and Joseph Stapf, 30, in the Bronx, according to a statement issued Monday by New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella.

Eli has not been seen for six months, and on Monday New Hampshire Fish and Game officers were using underwater equipment in their search for the boy in Naticook Lake in Merrimack.

Overhead, a State Police helicopter and drones were combing areas where searchers could not reach on foot.

But the homicide prosecutor overseeing the search, Benjamin Agati, said he fears it will eventually turn into a recovery operation, which means a body, rather than a living person, will be found.

"We're hoping to find him in good condition. I would be less than honest if I didn't say that the chances of that are not looking great at this point," Agati said in an interview outside the Merrimack police station.

Agati's comments were provided by independent journalist Jeffrey Hastings.

Late last week, authorities announced that Eli was missing and they wanted to speak to Dauphinais and Stapf.

They both face charges of witness-tampering and child endangerment. The two were scheduled to be arraigned in a Bronx County courtroom on Monday. Arraignments are usually routine events, but when they involve out-of-state charges, the central issue is whether a defendant will challenge his or her return to the state that issued the warrant.

If the two return to New Hampshire, they will be arraigned in the Nashua branch of Hillsborough County Superior Court.

Agati said the boy's father lives in Arizona and has answered all questions asked by police.

Dauphinais has several other children, and they are all safe and accounted for, Agati said.

Searchers are concentrating on the area around 7 Sunset Drive in Merrimack, a single-story home with considerable woods, the lake and a YWCA camp nearby, Agati said.

Such areas contain "a lot of different, little spaces" where an individual could be found, Agati said.

"We all hope we're going to find him safe and sound somewhere, but if not, we're going until we find him," Agati said.

Court records list that as the home address for both Dauphinais and Stapf.

Last week, child protection workers notified law enforcement that the boy's whereabouts were unknown, prompting Merrimack police to immediately begin an investigation. That investigation widened to include New Hampshire State Police and Formella's office, which oversees homicide investigations and prosecutions.

Authorities have said Eli has not been seen by "independent individuals" for six months, but has never been reported missing.

According to the office, Dauphinais and Stapf asked others to lie about Eli and his whereabouts, knowing that workers with the state Division for Children, Youth and Families were searching for him.

The endangerment charges allege they have violated a duty of care to the boy.

Agati said authorities had no tips that the pair were in New York City; he credited Transit Police with spotting them.

Anyone with information about the case can contact the Merrimack Police Department's Crimeline at 603-424-2424 or New Hampshire State Police Communications at 503- 223-4381 or 603-MCU-TIPS (603-628-8477).

The lead investigator, Detective Sgt. Kelly Healey of the Major Crime Unit, can be contacted directly at Kelly.A.Healey@dos.nh.gov.

mhayward@unionleader.com

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