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Five-year-old Elijah Lewis had fentanyl in his system and died from violence and neglect, autopsy finds

Elijah Lewis.

The 5-year-old New Hampshire boy whose body was discovered last month in Abington following a frantic 10-day search showed signs of head trauma, had the powerful drug fentanyl in his system, and was the victim of violence and neglect, prosecutors said Monday.

An autopsy conducted by the chief medical examiner in Massachusetts determined Elijah Lewis of Merrimack, N.H. died as a result of homicide.

“The cause of Elijah’s death was determined to be violence and neglect, including facial and scalp injuries, acute fentanyl intoxication, malnourishment and pressure ulcers,” according to a statement from the office of New Hampshire’s attorney general, John M. Formella.

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The findings brought renewed focus to the boy’s mother, Danielle Dauphinais, 35, and her boyfriend, Joseph Stapf, 30 — both of whom Elijah had reportedly been living with since May of 2020. The pair was arrested Oct. 17 in New York City and charged with child endangerment and witness tampering in connection with the case, part of an alleged effort to cover up the boy’s whereabouts.

Both pleaded not guilty to those charges last month in a New Hampshire court and are being held without bail.

So far, no charges have been filed related to the boy’s death.

“I am sick to my stomach,” MJ Morrison, aunt of Elijah’s 14-year-old brother, told the Globe in a text message Monday after learning of the autopsy’s findings. “I didn’t expect anything [like] this. I was hoping this was an accidental overdose and he got into something [and] they just panicked and didn’t know what to do.”

The search for Elijah began Oct. 14, authorities said, when New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families reported the boy missing to Merrimack police, sparking a search that would span at least five states and include law enforcement agencies from across New England.

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Authorities have said Elijah was last seen at his Sunset Drive home in Merrimack sometime in September.

Meanwhile, a report released Monday by the Gilbert Police Department in Arizona shed additional light on the 10-day search for Elijah.

At 9:34 p.m. on Oct. 14, the day authorities began searching for the boy, police in Merrimack called officers in Gilbert asking for help in locating the child’s father, Timothy Lewis.

Merrimack police told their counterparts in Arizona that the New Hampshire DCYF had reported the child missing to law enforcement, the report said, and that the most recent address investigators had for his father was an apartment in Gilbert.

Elijah’s name is redacted from the report, which refers to him as a 5-year-old boy; the documents refer to his parents as “Danielle” and “Timothy.”

Danielle Dauphinais had told investigators Elijah was with her sister in California and then said he was in Texas, the report said. Merrimack police were trying to determine whether the child was with his father in Arizona.

“MOTHER IS MIA RIGHT NOW,” the report said.

Gilbert police went to the apartment, spoke with a resident who said Timothy Lewis no longer lived there, and relayed the information to Merrimack police, the report said.

How, exactly, the boy came to live with Dauphinais in New Hampshire is unclear.

In court documents tied to the couple’s 2017 divorce, Lewis accused Dauphinais of being “violent and impulsive” and having a “history of domestic violence and substance abuse.” A decree approved by the court blocked Dauphinais from spending time with her son, while an accompanying parenting plan called for Elijah to remain solely in Lewis’s care.

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But in the spring of 2020, Elijah was sent to live with Dauphinais in New Hampshire — an arrangement that, according to two of Dauphinais’s friends as well as a former stepmother, Dauphinais struggled with.

The Globe reported last week that just four months before Elijah was discovered to be missing, Dauphinais complained to a childhood friend in text messages of Elijah’s behavior problems, according to screenshots of the conversation reviewed by the Globe.

“I call him the next Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer,” Dauphinais wrote. “It’s so sad but I have no connection with this child.”

“He’s been getting worse and worse,” Dauphinais added of her son. “I want him gone.”

In the messages, Dauphinais said that New Hampshire child welfare authorities were involved, but she suggested she was unable to take action without Lewis’s consent. Repeated attempts by the Globe to reach Lewis have been unsuccessful.

The New Hampshire attorney general’s office has so far offered little information on the case. Though multiple neighbors have told the Globe that police were a common presence at the boy’s Merrimack home in recent years, the attorney general’s office this month denied a request from the Globe for records of previous calls to service to the home.

A spokesperson for the New Hampshire DCYF also declined to say whether Elijah was known to the agency before his disappearance.

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In a post to a Facebook group created in Elijah’s memory written shortly after Monday’s announcement, Morrison vowed to pursue justice in the case.

“Eli you did not deserve any of this. You are so loved by every single person in this group. Your beautiful smile, big brown eyes, perfect dimples will NEVER be forgotten,” Morrison wrote. “We are fighting for you. Justice will be served.”

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.