- The Washington Times - Monday, March 30, 2009

CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (AP) - Two young boys missing for three weeks were found dead in the back seat of their father’s car, apparently killed by their dad before he took his own life, authorities said Monday.

A 911 call led authorities in Putnam County to a remote spot Sunday night where they found 9-year-old Duncan Connolly and his 7-year-old brother, Jack. They discovered the body of 40-year-old Michael Connolly about 60 yards away.

The boys, from the small town of Leroy, were the subject of a national search after their father failed to return them to their mother on March 8 following a weekend custody visit. The couple divorced in 2006 and Connolly only recently had been allowed to keep his sons overnight.

Autopsies were being conducted Monday, but McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery, whose department investigated the boys’ disappearance, and Putnam County Sheriff Kevin Doyle said the case was being treated as a double homicide-suicide.

Neither would discuss details of the case at a news conference Monday, including how the boys and their father died, how long they had been dead or why they ended up in a rural location about 60 miles north of where they lived. The sheriffs said they would respect the family’s wishes in withholding details.

“Our hearts and prayers now are with Jack, Duncan and (their mother) Amy Leichtenberg,” Emery said, his voice wavering.

Leichtenberg issued a statement expressing her own heartbreak.

“No parent should have to bury their babies,” she said. “Duncan and Jack, Mommy loves you to the heavens and back.”

Leichtenberg also blamed the courts for her sons’ deaths.

“I feel that the judicial system failed me,” she said, without elaborating. “I pray that the courts listen to the warnings from other parents like me.”

McLean County State’s Attorney Bill Yoder said he was unsure exactly what Leichtenberg was referring to, but that his office had recently filed four “criminal actions” against Connolly and his visitation rights had been under discussion.

Connolly was to have dropped the boys off at the police department in Leroy after picking them up there on March 6, Emery said.

A court order had barred Connolly from contact with Leichtenberg, according to her attorney, Helen Ogar. The order also initially prevented Connolly from seeing his sons.

Connolly was allowed to start keeping his children overnight without supervision in December, Ogar said.

Connolly never hurt Leichtenberg or their sons but scared her because he called often, sometimes threatening suicide and other times trying to intimidate her or persuade her to come back to him, Ogar said.

Police investigating the boys’ disappearance said Connolly had a history of gambling problems and had been treated for depression. He worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative, making a “good living,” Ogar said.

Before the weekend during which the boys disappeared, Leichtenberg did not want to turn them over to their father, her lawyer said.

“She was contacted by the Leroy police and told that she had to send them, that it was an arrestable offense (if she did not),” Ogar said.

She said she told Leichtenberg that failure to give the boys to their father was a civil matter, not criminal, and advised her not to turn them over if she didn’t want to.

Authorities did not issue an Amber Alert in the case until the evening of March 8, roughly a day after they were due back to their mother. Leroy police did not issue the alert _ eventually issued by the McLean County Sheriff’s Department _ because they did not believe the boys were in danger, Ogar said.

An officer who answered the phone at the Leroy Police Department on Monday directed questions to Chief Gordon Beck, who he said was out of town.

Attorney Todd Roseberry, who represented Connolly over violations of the court order barring contact with Leichtenberg, said he was stunned by the three deaths.

“The Michael Connolly I knew was very affectionate and loved his kids,” Roseberry said, adding that he hadn’t spoken with Connolly since last summer.

A spokesman for Leichtenberg said Monday that if she ever doubted her sons would come home, she didn’t show it.

“I spoke to her last evening. She was in downtown Davenport, Iowa, handing out fliers and putting up posters,” family friend Brad MacAfee said. “Every interaction I had with her, she had all the hope in the world she was going to see those boys.”

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