Tahlequah police: Mother, boyfriend strangled or suffocated 3-year-old boy Tuesday, both arrested

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - A 3-year-old Tahlequah boy is dead and his mother is one of two people behind bars for his homicide.

Police arrested the boy's mother, Jeri Sanders, and her boyfriend, Buford Ellison, Tuesday for murder.

The three lived at Stepping Stone Rooming House. When police arrived at the rooming house Tuesday, the boy, named Dakota, was already dead.

Emma Presley, the couple's landlord, told 2NEWS Sanders left Dakota with a neighbor, who put the boy in bed with her and went to sleep.

Police say the woman woke up some time later and found Dakota not breathing, realizing she likely laid beside him for a while not knowing anything was wrong.

The babysitter then notified Presley, who called 911.

"His body was stiff when they tried to lay him down to do CPR," she said. "His legs wouldn't lay down. They told me to open his mouth to give him some air. His mouth was locked."

Police Chief Nate King said Dakota was either strangled or suffocated. His body was transported to the medical examiner's office to determine the exact cause and manner of death.

Presley said Wednesday she had concerns about Dakota's welfare.

"Everybody here would hear the baby crying a lot and when I did talk to her once because I thought she was hitting him. She was saying she was slapping her hands together," Presley recalled.

Erica Lloyd, owner of a daycare Sanders used to work at, said both Sanders and her boyfriend recently battled cancer, and believes that, combined with a developmental disorder of Dakota's, might have taken its toll.

"I can't how tragic or where she must have been for this to go there," Lloyd said. "I just can't imagine. I just can't imagine, can't imagine."

Co-workers at the daycare said Sanders never showed any frustration and was always great with the children.

Both she and Ellison are being held without bond.

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