(MCT) — WHEATON, Ill. — Five years after he was buried in a tiny white casket, the unidentified boy known as “DuPage Johnny Doe” no longer lies in a nameless grave.
The mystery behind how he died lingers, but on a recent fall day, authorities quietly gave him back his identity — Atcel Olmedo.
His name was carved into the marble that had long read: “Son. Unknown. But Not Forgotten.”
“The tombstone says so much, ‘Not forgotten,’ and he isn’t,” said DuPage coroner Pete Siekmann, who in one of his final acts in office before retiring this month pushed to make sure Atcel was publicly named.
“It was important to me that we could at least give him his identity back,” Siekmann said.
His remains were found Oct. 8, 2005 — he would have turned 3 the next month — in a drawstring laundry bag near a creek bed in Naperville Township in northern Illinois. Experts determined that the boy died weeks earlier, but could not pinpoint the cause of death because of decomposition.
Two years later, after dozens of leads were exhausted, he was buried at Wheaton’s Assumption Cemetery in a donated casket the size of a toy chest. A teddy bear was tucked under the left arm of his blue blazer, and he was covered by a blue-and-white checkered blanket with stars, clouds and a little plane.
A message on the blanket read, “Sweet Baby Boy.” More than 100 community members and law enforcement officials gathered for the service.
Six months later, in April 2008, detectives in Cicero wondered if DuPage’s Johnny Doe could be connected to a local child abuse case they were investigating, according to a state agency report.
A Cicero girl on her 14th birthday told a social worker that her stepfather was responsible for the cuts, bruises and welts that covered her body, the record states. The teen said he kicked her with his steel work boots, slapped her with an open hand or whipped her with a belt “almost every other day,” the document said.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services immediately took the girl and her five younger siblings into protective custody after investigators found similar signs of physical abuse to two of the other children, state records said.
Later, safe in foster care, the girl asked police to find out what happened to her missing little brother. The teen said she last saw Atcel in Mexico before he left for the United States with their mother and stepfather while the others remained in Mexico with their grandmother, according to a U.S. Justice Department document. When the parents returned, Atcel was not with them. The girl said her grandmother told her in May 2006 that the stepfather and her mother had killed Atcel, put his body in a bag and “dumped him,” according to the same report.
The family moved to the Chicago area sometime in 2006. The girl said she and her siblings were punished if they asked about their missing brother, state records said.
Acting on the Cicero tip, forensic experts obtained a DNA match after comparing the unidentified boy’s remains with the genetic profile of another sibling, according to various documents. But by then, his mother and stepfather had disappeared. The Chicago Tribune, which revealed the boy’s identity in a February 2011 story, is not naming the parents because neither has been charged in Atcel’s death.
The boy would have turned 10 on Nov. 5. His six siblings range in age from 5 to 18 and still live in the Chicago area, officials said. They said the five youngest, adopted last year, are being raised together.
Even before the boy’s name was added to his gravestone, visitors found his final resting place. Mourners regularly left flowers, Matchbox cars and other mementos.
“It’s a sense of closure and justice,” said Henry “Hank” Ebeling III, president of the DuPage County Funeral Directors Association. “At least they found out the identity of the poor kid and buried him with some dignity. It shows someone cared.”