The man who was taken into custody after an all-day search of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore physically struck his wife in a domestic assault Sunday morning, the Emmet County Sheriff said.
The sheriff's department said the man, Daniel Elliott, hit his wife while in the car driving on US-131 in Emmet County.
The wife called 911 at 10:35 a.m. on Sunday. According to the Leelanau County Sheriff, Elliott's wife said she was forced out of the family car by her husband and he drove off with the children. She filed a missing person report a short time after because she said she was concerned for the welfare of her children "because of her husband's mental state." She did not, however, believe he would hurt them.
A statewide domestic assault warrant was issued for Elliott.
A Sleeping Bear Dunes park ranger found an abandoned car early Monday morning near the Maritime Museum. Running the license plate number alerted authorities to the man's arrest warrant relating to domestic violence, leading to the search.
Authorities searched for 12 hours before finding the family in a field near Dune Valley Road. They were reportedly exhausted and dehydrated.
The children told rescuers that they were on a camping trip with their father.
"They kind of figured they were camping," said Sheriff Mike Borkovich, of Leelanau County. "That's what they thought they were doing today."
The family had spent the day on the dunes without water, food, or camping equipment. Borkovich believes Elliott thought he needed to keep his children away from the mother, which is why he took them into the woods.
Elliott is expected to be arraigned Wednesday in Emmet County on the original misdemeanor domestic violence charge. The sheriff said he will not face additional charges stemming from the search at this time.
"We don't look at it as him having abused or neglected them intentionally; he didn't raise a hand to them. He didn't threaten them... I asked (the children) if they had fun. They said they did. They felt they were camping. I said 'when did you go camping, what are you doing?' They gave me the answers that we felt were appropriate for somebody being in that sort of situation. We didn't see signs beyond the physical exhaustion, dehydration and obvious hunger."
An Emmet County magistrate set Elliott's bond at $10,000 but ordered that he must be evaluated by community mental health before being released.
The children were turned over to their mother.