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A mother sent her three-year-old boy away to ‘learn to be a man.’ Now he’s missing

It’s been over a month since three-year-old Elijah Vue was reported missing – and concerning details have emerged about ‘disciplinary tactics’ he may have been subjected to. Dan Gooding reports

Tuesday 16 April 2024 19:20
Elijah Vue
Elijah Vue (FB/Two Rivers Police Department)
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An Amber Alert went out in the Wisconsin town of Two Rivers warning that a little boy had gone missing and police needed the community’s help.

Nearly two months on from the 20 February alert, the town is still searching for Elijah Vue, while his mother and her boyfriend are in jail, facing child neglect charges.

Here’s everything we know so far about the case:

What happened to Elijah Vue?

Three-year-old Elijah Vue was last seen at around 8am on 20 February on the 3900 block of Michicot Road in Two Rivers, a town on the shore of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin.

Two Rivers Police Department said they received a call at 10.59am from “the adult caregiver”, who later turned out to be his mother’s partner Jesse Vang, reporting the boy as missing.

Elijah, from Wisconsin Dells around 150 miles away, had been sent by his mother Katrina Baur to stay with Mr Vang “for disciplinary reasons”, Two Rivers authorities said.

Elijah Vue's family plead for help in finding him

In court documents seen by NBC 26, police said that Ms Baur told them she had sent her son to Mr Vang so he could teach the boy how to be a man.

Mr Vang allegedly used “tactics” including time-outs where Elijah had to stand up for one to three hours, or was forced to take cold showers.

On 20 March, new details emerged of messages between Mr Vang and Ms Baur in the days leading up to Elijah’s disappearance.

“I told you to trust me… I’m a make sure he hates me and being here,”  Mr Vang told the mother on 18 February. She responded: “Don’t want him to *hate* YOU. Just fear you.”

However, Mr Vang told Ms Baur not to worry and that sometimes someone has to be “the bad person”.

“I know but either way he can fear you and respect you,” Ms Baur replied, with Mr Vang responding that Elijah did fear him, “but he didn’t respect I’m making him respect me.”

The complaint also shows that a few days before, on 13 and 14 February, Ms Baur had visited the Two Rivers apartment and took a photo of Elijah with a blindfold over his eyes and bruising on his face as he lay on a bed.

At this point, she had left a six-year-old girl, believed to be her daughter, outside in a cold car.

Another photo, taken on 15 February, showed the boy standing in a corner in his apparently full diaper and nothing else, with his hands in a praying position.

A few days later, Mr Vang reported Elijah missing.

Elijah Vue, 3, was last seen in Two Rivers Wisconsin on 20 February 2024 (Two Rivers Police Department)

At the time of his disappearance, Elijah was said to be wearing grey pants, a dark-coloured long-sleeve shirt and red-and-green dinosaur slip-on shoes.

Investigators urged the public to be on the lookout for the little boy who is described as being of Hmong and white ethnicity, about three feet tall and having brown hair and brown eyes. He has a birthmark on his left knee.

Elijah Vue’s mother and boyfriend arrested

One day after Elijah’s disappearance, his mother Katrina Baur, 31, was arrested and charged with party-to-a-crime child neglect.

She reportedly changed her story on her whereabouts at least twice while being interviewed by investigators and was then hit with two further charges of obstruction on Monday 26 February.

On 7 March, Ms Baur appeared in court where her appeal to have her $15,000 bond revoked was denied by the judge after her own mother told the court that her daughter should not be allowed to go free.

“I don’t feel it’s worth the risk to lower her bond, especially as [Elijah] has not been found and many questions remain unanswered,” the statement, read by District Attorney Jacalyn LaBre, said.

Katrina Baur appears in court via video link as the search continues for her 3-year-old son Elijah Vue (News 3 Now/Channel 3000)

The DA announced updated charges at the hearing, replacing the original child neglect charge to chronic child neglect and adding another child neglect charge relating to a six-year-old girl on 14 February.

Mr Vang, 39, was arrested a few hours after Elijah disappeared and was charged with child neglect. He reportedly has a history of other criminal offences, including child abuse and is being held on a $20,000 bond.

At a hearing for Mr Vang on 4 April, detectives who first responded to the Two Rivers apartment where the boy had been staying gave testimony, revealing new details on the tactics he allegedly used with the boy.

“There was one toy in the residence which was given to the child at Christmastime,” Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office Detective Michael Herrmann told the court.

“However, during this stay, because it was a punishment, he was not allowed to play with that toy.”

Mr Vang also allegedly gave the boy a cold shower on 17 February, after he had filled his diaper.

Judge Robert Dewane said there was enough evidence to proceed to trial, with the next court appearance set for 16 April.

Ms Baur’s next listed court appearance is 26 April, after she pleaded not guilty to the charges against her.

On 16 April, Mr Vang appeared in court and entered a not guilty plea to child neglect charges. A status conference for Mr Vang is scheduled for 28 June.

Local reports suggest that Elijah’s father has also been in prison for some time.

The Vue family, who said they had not had contact with the boy since he was a baby, have been heavily involved in the search efforts for him.

The search for Elijah Vue

Multiple law enforcement agencies including the Two Rivers Police Department, the FBI, the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations, the Manitowoc Police Department, the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office and the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office are involved in the search for the little boy.

So far, dive teams have combed through nearby waterways and investigators have searched a landfill site in Two Rivers.

Two Rivers Police Department Chief Ben Meinnert said on Tuesday 27 February that his officers were continuing to follow up on every lead in their attempt to bring Elijah home safely. He would not comment on specific case details, including whether the department was treating this as an abduction.

A large number of local volunteers – including Elijah’s relatives – have also joined in the search.

On Tuesday 27 February, one of Elijah’s relatives told reporters that the family was “burdened” by an unimaginable situation.

“The pain is indescribable,” she said. “We cannot express our sorrow or the desperation that consumes us.

“To anyone with information on Elijah’s whereabouts, we plead with you to please come forward.”

She said every piece of information would bring them one step closer to bringing Elijah back to his family.

Police officers and volunteers have been knocking door to door, searching local rivers and using drones and dogs as part of the search.

“We’re all out here for the same reason, to find that little boy,” local Maria Wright told ABC 2 News.

“When you see everybody you know that we are a team. Your community is one big team. We’re going to keep on and the search is going to go on and on until we find this little boy.”

Locals have been asked to check anywhere a small child might hide, climb or fall, and to look for any items on their property which don’t belong to them, such as Elijah’s blanket or shoes.

The family organized more searches for late April.

On Friday, 19 April, a magic and bubble show at the Mikadow Theatre will take place to raise money to help witht the search effort.

Elijah’s blanket found

Police had said Elijah may have been carrying this blanket when he disappeared (Two Rivers Police Department)

One of the key items police asked locals to look out for when Elijah disappeared was his red-and-white plaid blanket.

On Monday 18 March, TRPD announced that officers had found the little boy’s blanket on Goodwin Road, east of County Road B in Manitowoc County earlier in the investigation.

“Today we can confirm the blanket is Elijah’s blanket,” Chief Ben Meinnert said on Facebook.

“This blanket was located 3.7 miles from the 3900 block of Mishicot Road in the City of Two Rivers, where Elijah was reported missing on February 20th, 2024.”

Law enforcement pleas for help in finding Elijah

In an update on Tuesday 27 February, the FBI said it was offering a $15,000 reward for information which leads them to Elijah.

As of Tuesday 5 March, Manitowoc County Crime Stoppers is now offering $10,000 for the same information or leads to the arrest of those responsible for his disappearance. That was an increase from the original $1,000 proposed by the organisation.

Two Rivers Police Chief Ben Meinnert said in a Facebook update on Saturday 24 February that “locating Elijah and reuniting him with his family continues to be our top priority”, something he has repeated in multiple updates on the search.

The police department has also needed to issue multiple warnings about scams related to Elijah’s disappearance, including a video appearing to show police finding the boy.

This was fake, Chief Meinnert said at the start of March.

“Again, beware of scams seeking your money and personal information, but also those now looking to take advantage of this unfortunate incident,” the chief added, referring to reports of residents being called by scammers asking for money to help with the search.

Photos released of car connected to Elijah’s disappearance

As the search for Elijah Vue entered its third week in Wisconsin, police were asking for help in piecing together the movements of a car the day before the three-year-old vanished.

Two Rivers Police Department shared photos of the beige 1997 Nissan Altima on Monday 4 March, saying law enforcement was in possession of the vehicle.

“We are requesting homeowners and businesses to review their surveillance camera footage captured on February 19, 2024 between the hours of 2:00 PM - 9:00 PM,” the department said on Facebook.

“Due to the duration of the hours requested to be reviewed, we are asking the public beyond the greater Two Rivers area and adjacent counties to review their videos as well.”

It was not immediately clear who the car may have belonged to, with the department only sharing that the registration plate started with “A” and ended with “0”.

Locals raised concerns about their ability to help when many doorbell cameras only store data going back five days.

Anyone with information on the case can call 844-267-6648 or submit information via the local Crime Stoppers app P3.

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