‘I love you so much. I’ll see you tomorrow,’ Round Lake Beach mom told children before they were drowned

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.

The last conversation Debra Karels had with her children was over the phone Sunday night.

“I said, ‘I love you so much. I can’t wait to see you tomorrow,’” Debra Karels told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “And then, the next day they’re gone.”

When she arrived Monday at her estranged husband’s home to take the children for a scheduled doctor’s appointment, Debra Karels found Bryant, 5, Cassidy, 3, and Gideon, 2, dead on a bed.

“I said, ‘He would never do anything to the kids.’ I never thought anything of it,” Debra Karels said. “I have regret every day of my life that I let him see those kids.”

Jason E. Karels, 35, was charged Tuesday with three counts of first-degree murder in the drowning deaths of his three children.

Debra Karels accused her husband of being abusive toward her throughout their relationship, but she said she did not worry he would hurt the children.

“He always told me he couldn’t do anything to his children, my beef is with you, not the children,” Karels said, beginning to cry.

She said she had left her husband about a month before and had begun the process of getting a divorce. She said she considered joint custody of the children but later decided on seeking sole custody.

But Karels said she felt it was important the children’s father remain a part of their lives and occasionally would let them stay with him, like they were the weekend before their deaths.

Jason Karels quit his job working at a restaurant in the fall and tried making a living streaming himself playing video games online, Debra Karels said. She said she supported him pursuing his dream.

“I’m like, ‘You know I support you, do what makes you happy,’” Debra Karels said.

But when he didn’t make money playing video games, it put a strain on their marriage, said Christina Neuman, Debra Karels’ sister-in-law.

Debra Karels said that on many occasions Jason Karels threatened that if she left him he would kill himself.

She told reporters about each of her children.

Bryant was excited to start kindergarten in the fall. He always asked her questions about the world and loved to learn, she said.

“He would always ask ‘Why, why, why?’ and at certain points I had to say, ‘Go ask Google, I don’t know why,’” Karels said. “He was the smartest kid in the world.”

Cassidy loved everything girly despite how strong and tomboyish she was, Karels said, referring to her daughter as her “Mini-me.”

“She was a typical woman who could be the sweetest person, but then if you got her angry she would come at you,” the mother said. “I didn’t have to worry about the safety of my boys because I knew their sister would take control and handle it all.”

And she called Gideon her miracle baby because she didn’t plan to have a third child but considered herself blessed to have had him anyway.

“He loved Mommy so much. He was a mama’s boy,” Karels said, crying. “We would all dance together so much. All I want to do is dance with my kids.”