LOGAN, Iowa — A 12-year-old girl was watching TV on Saturday night as her two foster brothers — one 5, the other 17 — played outside.
She was in charge of baby-sitting the boys, the girl told investigators.
Shortly after the older boy, Cody Metzker-Madsen, came inside, covered in mud and with blood on his forehead, a search for 5-year-old Dominic Elkins was initiated.
The boy was found at the bottom of a ravine near the family’s home north of Logan. Metzker-Madsen has been charged with first-degree murder in Dominic’s death.
The 12-year-old is one of two biological daughters of foster parents Don and Julie Coolman. Her statement was one of the court documents that became public late this week, after investigators executed a search warrant on the Coolman property. Also made public were statements made by Julie Coolman and the responding deputies.
Metzker-Madsen is “mentally challenged,” Ladena Coolman, Don Coolman’s mother, said in an interview. The youth attended a special school in Omaha.
Developmentally, Dominic and the teen were at about the same level, she said.
While the girl said she was alone with the boys at home, there were several adults on the roughly 20-acre property in a wooded valley in the hills north of Logan, Ladena Coolman said.
Don and Julie had visitors that evening, Julie Coolman told investigators. Don Coolman and a friend went on a motorcycle ride, while the friend’s son stayed behind and went with Julie and one of her daughters to get ice cream in Logan. The other daughter was left with Metzker-Madsen and Dominic, who were playing outside.
After Metzker-Madsen came inside the home, he said Dominic thought he wasn’t playing fairly, so Dominic hit himself in the head, hit the teen with a brick and ran to the ravine, the girl told investigators.
The girl phoned her mother, who at that point had been gone about 30 minutes. Julie Coolman had returned from Logan and was at the end of the property’s long driveway, chatting with a sister-in-law, said Ladena Coolman.
The foster mother rushed home and found Cody crying, saying he didn’t do anything. Julie Coolman told him he needed to take them to Dominic. The teen led them to the boy, yelling that he hadn’t done anything.
Dominic’s body was facedown in a creek in a ravine. Mic Coolman, the father of Don Coolman, pulled up on a four-wheeler.
Julie Coolman ran to get Harrison County deputies, who were on the way.
The 12-year-old girl attempted CPR on the boy. His body was limp, his clothes wet and dirty, his face covered in gashes and bruises.
Mic Coolman felt for a pulse, and told the girl there wasn’t anything that could be done.
Deputies arrived at the scene. Metzker-Madsen was taken into custody.
Mic Coolman described the teen as having “anger issues,” but said he seemed to respond well to the guidance of his foster parents.
Metzker-Madsen attended Heartland School in Omaha, which provides services to those with behavioral disorders.
Ladena and Mic Coolman were uncertain about a specific diagnosis for the teen.
“He does not understand how to relate to people,” Mic Coolman said of Cody.
Dominic had a history of behavioral problems as well. His mother, Barbara Kunch, 24, of Atlantic, Iowa, placed her son in the foster care system a year ago, after he had begun hitting and biting others and butting his head against walls.
He had never hit himself with things in the way Metzker-Madsen told investigators, she said.
“I don’t buy my kid hitting himself in the head with anything,” Kunch told The World-Herald this week. “The worst he ever did was claw his face and bite himself. He never took anything in his hand and hit himself in the head with it.”
Kunch and her family have questioned the wisdom of placing Dominic in the same home as Metzker-Madsen. The Iowa Department of Human Services said it is common to pair similarly behaved foster children in the same household.
Don and Julie Coolman had received special training at Boys Town to deal with behaviorally and mentally challenged children. Many, but not all, of the foster children assigned to them had such problems, the elder Coolmans said.
The couple had been foster parents for about 11 years. Metzker-Madsen had lived with the Coolmans for three years. Dominic had been there a few weeks.
Mic and Ladena Coolman, who are former foster parents, said their son’s family shouldn’t have been expected to keep an eye on Dominic and Metzker-Madsen at all times.
In fact, the Department of Human Services does not want them to, they said. The department wants foster children to have as normal a home as possible.
“Those two boys played together a lot,” Mic Coolman said. “The same thing could have happened if Julie had been there. The age of the person in charge isn’t the issue.”
Funeral services for Dominic are set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Pauley-Jones Funeral Home in Harlan, Iowa, the city where the child was born.
A memorial fund has been established to help the family with expenses related to Dominic’s death. Checks may be sent to any Bank Iowa branch and should be made out to “Stacy Hansen/Dominic Elkins Memorial Fund.”