Monday candlelight vigil planned to remember Dakota Levi Stevens

A resident of the Liberty Township subdivision where Dakota Levi Stevens lived before his death is organizing a candlelight vigil in his memory.

The vigil will begin at 8 p.m. Monday at the park at the front of Eagle Ridge subdivision with speakers who knew Dakota, a pizza snack in honor of his favorite food, and a candlelight walk through the neighborhood, said organizer Monica Jimenez.

Dakota, 10, died two days after what police have called a “medical emergency” on April 25 at the foster home in the 200 block of Falcon Way where family and his former foster father believe he had been for less than a week.

The Porter County Sheriff’s Office has released few details about the investigation and an autopsy report is not expected for up to two months, according to the St. Joseph County Coroner’s Office. The sheriff’s detective bureau is investigating.

In addition to living in Eagle Ridge, Jiminez also was connected with Dakota’s former foster dad, Hayden Hetzel, through a former marriage to one of Hetzel’s relatives. She remains close to Hetzel and his family.

Jimenez, who was working on April 25, the day Dakota was transported to Northwest Health-Porter, before he died two days later at South Bend Memorial Hospital, said she found out about his death from her daughter.

“The neighborhood is coming together for the vigil,” she said, adding a neighbor is donating the candles and a nearby business is providing the pizza.

Jiminez also is working with the homeowners association to find a place, possibly at the subdivision’s park, where people can leave mementos and other items in Dakota’s memory.

Hayden Hetzel, who was Dakota’s foster father for two years and tried twice to adopt him, and Logan Mills of Gary, who is Dakota’s cousin, have said Dakota and his younger sister were moved several times between family and foster homes.

Additionally, Dakota spent time in a mental health facility; his sister was adopted.

“He deserves justice,” Hetzel, of Hammond, has said.

“Our entire staff is heartbroken by this news. DCS works with stakeholders and partners across the state to investigate the death of a child any time there is suspected abuse or neglect and will take the appropriate action,” Brian Heinemann, deputy director of communications for the Indiana Department of Child Services, said in an email Wednesday afternoon.

A department spokeswoman said in an email late Thursday afternoon that “This foster parent has been licensed since 2017 and was in good standing, having completed the required training and education required to achieve and maintain licensure.”

With Dakota’s funeral on Monday, Jimenez said, it’s “the perfect day” to arrange a memorial that’s open to the public.

Dakota’s funeral is Monday at Geisen Funeral Home, 606 E. 113th Ave., Crown Point. Services are private.