Round Lake Beach community gathers after killing of three children

Local police, chaplain guide residents, family through trauma of event

Round Lake Beach Police Chaplain Tim Perry tells the crowd of 100 that first responders "are warriors" at a community gathering of support on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, at the Round Lake Beach Cultural and Civic Center  after Monday’s killing of three young siblings.

Sadness. Disbelief. Confusion. Heartbreak.

These were some of the words spoken by Round Lake Beach residents Wednesday evening when police chaplain Tim Perry asked what their immediate, gut response and feelings were to the drownings of three children this week.

Their father, Jason E. Karels, was charged Tuesday with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Bryant, 5, Cassidy, 3, and Gideon, 2.

Dozens of residents, including parents and children, gathered Wednesday at the Round Lake Beach Cultural and Civic Center to mourn and speak with one another about what had happened.

Police Chief Gilbert Rivera, who said he is due to retire two weeks from now after 23 years, said nothing prepares an officer for this kind of scenario and described it as “one of the most difficult moments to ever happen to our community.”

He said he personally had requested the evening’s gathering because it was imperative the “strong and resilient” community shared support with each other.

“We will not forget those three angels,” the police chief said of the dead children.

Round Lake Beach resident Rhiannon Harkins, who attended Wednesday’s gathering with her three children and her husband, Willie Morales, said she was “extremely angry” about the killings.

”I took my boys for a walk that night,” Harkins said. “We walked past the backyard [of the slain children] at sunset, and I lost it. My kids are that age.”

Round Lake Beach Police Chief Gilbert Rivera speaks at a community gathering of support on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, at the Round Lake Beach Cultural and Civic Center after Monday’s killing of three young siblings.

Another resident, Ian Hernandez-Maya, said she lived near the home and felt shame and guilt for not seeing signs that something was wrong.

“I saw those kids playing outside, seeming happy,” Hernandez-Maya said. “I feel like we could have done something. This is hurting our family.”

Terry told her, and others, to let their memories of the family, and children, be a positive, and encouraged them to release their own feelings of guilt or sense that there was any way to stop what happened.

After the hourlong discussion Hernandez-Maya, said she felt the discussion was helpful, adding that while she struggles with mental illness, she cannot fathom what happened.

Terry emphasized forgiveness and healing for those present, as well as the mother and family, who were not in attendance. But he did not mince words when describing the culpability of the person responsible, which he said was evil.

“God was very clear about what happens to those who mess with his children,” Terry said.

The discussion began with a speech from the Mayor Scott Nickles, who said the deaths “crushed” him, adding that he was a father of a young child himself.

“I realize there aren’t words to express my deepest condolences to family and friends of the children who were taken away too soon,” Nickles said. “If there is anything that village can do to help, or if I personally can do to help, please let us know.”

Nickles said he felt that the village was made up of “strong people and families” and said he knew the village would persevere, though now was a time to grieve.

“This is an incredible group of people,” said Nancy Radford, who said she’s lived in Round Lake Beach for 25 years. “I’ve never been in a community that was closer.”

Aaron Dorman

Aaron Dorman

Medill graduate and upstate-NY native now covering Crystal Lake and surrounding towns and cities.