MERRIMACK, N.H. — The human remains found Saturday in Abington woods were positively identified as those of missing 5-year-old Elijah “Eli” Lewis, New Hampshire’s attorney general announced shortly before a candlelight vigil honoring the boy was held Sunday evening.
Elijah, who was first reported missing Oct. 14, was the focus of a days-long search, and his disappearance led to the Oct. 17 arrest of his mother Danielle D. Dauphinais, 35, and her boyfriend, Joseph Stapf, 30, in New York City.
The couple faces child endangerment and witness tampering charges in connection with the case, and they both pleaded not guilty to those charges last week in a New Hampshire court. The boy had been last seen within the past 30 days at his Sunset Drive home in Merrimack, officials have said.
Sunday’s development came about an hour before the vigil began in Merrimack’s Watson Park, where family members had asked people to gather and offer their support to the boy’s loved ones.
Close to 200 people, including several families with young children, gathered at the park to mourn Elijah’s life Sunday evening.
Many at the scene held up candles as M.J. Morrison, who is the aunt of Elijah’s 14-year-old brother, raised a framed picture of the boy high above her head to show the crowd.
“These last 10 days have been an emotional rollercoaster for every person involved,” she told the crowd as she fought back tears. “Eli’s big brown eyes and dimples stole the hearts of people all over the world.”
She thanked the crowd for celebrating Elijah’s life and their “extraordinary efforts” in helping to locate the boy.
Morrison then played “Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, the music flowing out of a set of speakers and across the field.
Teri Connelly, who lives in town and attended the vigil with her sister and a friend, described Elijah’s death as “beyond comprehension.”
“I would just watch it on the news every night and was praying and hoping,” she said.
Connelly became emotional as she talked about the news Sunday that Elijah’s remains had been confirmed by authorities. Attending the vigil, she said, has helped her grieve for Elijah and his family.
“Just to be here with all these people warms my heart,” Connelly said.
Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz said Saturday that officials will work to find who is responsible for the boy’s death.
“We need to make sure that we do everything in our power to make sure we can get justice for this little boy,” Cruz told reporters.
The boy’s body was found Saturday morning buried in a wooded area off of Chestnut Street in Abington, officials have said.
The Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner completed an autopsy on Elijah’s body Sunday, according to a statement from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office. Elijah was identified using dental records, the statement said.
The attorney general did not announce new charges in the case Sunday. Determining the cause of Elijah’s death remains pending further toxicology testing and investigation, the statement said.
“It is likely that it will be a few months before there is a specific determination of cause and manner of death,” the statement read. “At this time, it is anticipated that no additional charges will be brought until these findings are complete.”
Merrimack residents were dealing with a mix of shock and grief since the discovery of the body — and many have opened their hearts to support the family, according to Nancy Murphy, a member of its Town Council.
Elijah’s death “has touched everybody,” Murphy said in a phone interview Sunday afternoon.
Blue ribbons — in Elijah’s favorite color — decorate porches, mailboxes, and street signs, and at Watson Park, where the vigil took place, she said. Online, people are posting condolences on a page dedicated to Elijah that was set up by family members.
Members of the local police department, which has been working straight out on the case for more than a week, are devastated, she said. Many residents are unable to fathom the loss.
“I think the community is heartbroken,” Murphy said. “What is more important than our children? They are near and dear to us, and our ultimate goal for any child is to protect them. And this child certainly did not get the protection that he should have.”
Dauphinais and Stapf were arraigned at Hillsborough Superior Court, where she was accused of blocking social workers’ access to the boy from early September to Oct. 14, when that state’s Division for Children, Youth and Families formally notified Merrimack police that Elijah was missing.
Prosecutors said that Dauphinais and Stapf told a woman to not talk to a child protective social worker about Elijah. Dauphinais also allegedly told two other people to mislead social workers and say the boy was with them.
Stapf is accused of endangering Elijah by not reporting him as missing, which would have allowed social workers to protect the boy, according to court records. Dauphinais and Stapf were ordered held Wednesday pending further court proceedings.
Elijah was one of Dauphinais’s six children, Morrison said Saturday. The boy loved dinosaurs, dancing, and playing with toy trucks, she said.
“If we could describe Eli, we would describe him as being playful,” Morrison said.
The response from within the community is typical for Merrimack, according to Karen Hudson, a manager at the D.W. Diner on the Daniel Webster Highway.
The restaurant always has a lot of success fund-raising for local causes, she said. When a house fire displaced a local family a few months back, people stepped up with donations of clothes and other support.
The loss of a small child has deeply affected this community, Hudson said.
“This town, when something happens, this town gets together,” Hudson said. “No matter what is going on, people in this town will come together and support each other.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com. Nick Stoico can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.