Round Lake Beach community rallies around mother of ‘three angels’

GoFundMe effort raises more than $100,000 and counting

ROUND LAKE BEACH – Donations for the mother of three young children killed June 13 in Round Lake Beach have surpassed goals, and efforts to help the family are ongoing.

As of this week, a “3 Innocent RLB Angels” GoFundMe page had raised more than $105,000, surpassing a $100,000 goal, an amount bumped up from the page’s original goal. The money is intended to help Debbie Karels “move on with her life in the wake of this terrible tragedy,” according to the page.

“We’re encouraging her to clear her mind, take the time,” said Christina Neuman Berg, Karels’ sister-in-law and member of the fundraising team. “She keeps saying money won’t bring back her children. That’s true. The reality is you need to take this time to grieve, get counseling and start your life over.”

The typically private family is both overwhelmed and humbled by the amount of support that has come in since June 13, Berg said.

On that day, Karels had gone to retrieve her children, Bryant, 5, Cassidy, 3, and Gideon, 2, from the home of her estranged husband, Jason E. Karels. He had been given a weekend visitation. She discovered all three of the children dead in a bedroom.

Jason E. Karels, 35, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his children. He reportedly gave a detailed statement to investigators about how he drowned the children one by one in a bathtub.

Since the tragedy, the community has rallied around Debbie Karels and her family, all of whom have lived and grown up in Lake County. Community members not only have donated through the GoFundMe page, but they also offered free services, food and supplies for a private memorial service for the children.

“It’s kind of left us speechless how much people have been doing,” Berg sad. “We’re really grateful, and every penny is going to go to her.”

Berg specifically thanked Lake County Board member Dick Barr, who initiated the GoFundMe page and worked with her to create the fundraiser.

Although the amount raised has surpassed goals, donations will continue to be sought because the road ahead for Debbie Karels is unknown, said Barr, who emphasized he is not running for reelection and his efforts are not political.

Barr lives about a half mile from where the murders took place and said he wanted to help.

“I’m floored, but not surprised,” Barr said of the amount of donations. “The community has always come together to help when someone has been in need. … It’s just something our community does.”

Separated from her husband, Debbie Karels was working as a single parent at an area restaurant when her children were killed, Berg said. Because Jason Karels was unemployed, she financially supported her children on her own.

She now needs to find somewhere new to live and basically a fresh start, Berg said.

Debbie Karels bought her car to transport her children so driving it is too painful, Berg said, and she’s unable to go back to work. “Taking care of happy kids and families is not a mindset she can deal with right now,” Berg said.

She’s also in the process of divorcing her estranged husband.

“I think she’s doing as best as people can expect when your entire life is taken from you,” said Berg, who tries to let her sister-in-law know that she can “rise from the ashes” by calling her a phoenix.

Debbie Karels has told police that her husband physically and mentally abused her. She’s made an effort to share her story both to raise awareness of domestic abuse and to let the community know about her children – the heart of the family.

“She hated the idea the only reason people knew about them was that they were murdered,” Berg said.

Obituaries for the children describe the unique personalities of each child.

“It’s just all unimaginable,” Berg said. “You just don’t think it’s going to happen to your family. You just don’t.”

Berg encouraged others to appreciate their loved ones and to pay attention to any signs of domestic abuse seen or heard and to step in if necessary.

“Anything can happen to anybody at any time,” she said.