RANDOLPH, Minn.(Fox 9) - Randolph is a small town in Dakota County where 6-year-old Eli Hart felt great love, living there with a foster family for just under a year. It’s also the place where his father, Tory Hart, and Hart’s fiancé, Josie Josephson, made memories with Eli.
"As we fought to get reunited with Eli, one of the first places we were able to do that was here in Randolph. We came here and walked him to school on his first day of school. We came here and trick-or-treated on Halloween," said Josephson.
Before his death, Tory and Josie had been fighting for custody of Eli. Hart’s mother, Julissa Thaler, was awarded full custody of the boy, despite repeated concerns and calls for help. Eli’s body was found in the trunk of Thaler’s car last Friday after a traffic stop in Mound.
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On Saturday afternoon, community members from across Minnesota and Wisconsin came together on the Randolph Elementary School football field to celebrate the life of a little boy who loved sour candy and wanted to be a firefighter.
Eli’s teachers from both Randolph and Mound remembered a friendly kid with a genuine smile.
"His excited spirit and smile made everyone a better person every day," said his kindergarten teacher at Shirley Hills Primary School.
"He was just a wonderful kid. Always smiling. He was so easy to like. He would always give people hugs. He was always there for his friends," said Matt Rutledge, Elementary Principal of Randolph Schools.
As the memorial service came to a close, the group released balloons into the sky for Eli as a glimmer of sunshine poked through the clouds.
"To know the sun came out afterwards … Eli is with us. He is safe now," said Josephson.