An Ionia, Mich., woman is lucky to be unharmed after an ordeal Sunday evening that saw her taken hostage by an escaped convict and driven into Indiana before she was able to escape with the help of dispatchers at the LaGrange County 911 Center.
The ordeal began around 8 p.m. Sunday evening when Michael David Elliot, 40, escaped from the Ionia Correctional Facility in Michigan. Elliot was serving a life sentence after being convicted of four 1993 murders. Elliot forced his way into a red 2004 Jeep Liberty, Michigan plate number 5FTG55, that was outside a residence near Ionia and occupied by a female. Elliot was armed with a hammer and a box cutter knife and threatened to cut the female.
Elliot took the Jeep with the female to the Middlebury area, where they pulled off the Indiana Toll Road on SR 13 and stopped at a Gallop’s gas station for fuel shortly before midnight. While Elliot was prepaying for gas, his hostage was able to use a cellphone she had hidden from him to call 911. The call was received by LaGrange County 911 dispatchers.
As dispatchers attempted to pinpoint the location, the female reported that Elliot was heading back to the vehicle.
At this point, the dispatcher, Heather Lock, gave the female directions that probably saved her life. Lock told the woman to go into the station’s restroom and lock the door.
The woman got out of the vehicle and told Elliot she was going to the restroom, which he allowed her to do. Once inside the restroom, the female locked the door and continued her call to 911.
Meanwhile, a second LaGrange County dispatcher, Kelly Landers, was working to locate the gas station based on the information the female could provide, as well as contact Elkhart County Dispatch to coordinate efforts. Several minutes later, Elliot knocked on the restroom door and told the female it was time to go. The woman was able to stall and remained in the restroom.
Once Lock and Landers confirmed the location, Elkhart County got officers en route to the gas station on SR 13. The dispatchers kept the female on the phone while waiting for officers to arrive and kept Elkhart County informed of the situation. While on the phone, dispatchers were also able to locate news on the escapee from Ionia.
Once officers arrived at the scene, LaGrange County’s dispatchers confirmed their arrival through Elkhart County before advising the female that she could exit the restroom. The female opened the door to find an officer from the Middlebury Police Department there.
Elliot and the Jeep Liberty were gone.
“This really was a team effort,” LaGrange County Communications Director Arron Knisley said, and praised the professionalism of Lock and Landers. Throughout the call, they reassured the female and continued to get essential information. The female also remained calm throughout the ordeal and was able to answer the dispatchers’ questions as the event unfolded. In all, the call lasted just under 40 minutes.