LASALLE, Mich. (WXYZ) -
THE MOMENT THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
They are the picture perfect family.
So why would anybody try to destroy everything they had?
It was almost all taken away in a split second one year ago.
It started out as a routine day. Attorney Erik Chappell raced home from work at the firm to take his two boys to football practice. Grant was 13 at the time and Cole was 11.
The ten-minute ride from their home in Lasalle to Monroe takes less than ten minutes. But this time, as they exited I-75, it would become a nightmare on Elm Street.
"You really didn't hear the explosion, but you were engulfed in the explosion," says Chappell.
Erik was on his blue tooth, while Grant was next to him and Cole was in the back seat behind his brother.
Suddenly it was chaos.
"There was a moment where it's just dazed and you're trying to figure out what just happened," says Chappell.
Erik, still on his phone, screamed to his client on the other end.
"I was yelling at him, telling him that my car just blew up, I was yelling for him to call 911," recalls Chappell.
A fire in the Volvo station wagon was growing.
"When I saw the flames, I yelled at the boys to get themselves out of the car, I was screaming get out of the car, get out of the car," says Chappell.
The boys, badly injured, made it out of the car on their own.
"I didn't know what was going on," says Cole. "So I just got up because I heard my Dad screaming...so I practically just rolled out of the car."
"Cole was laying on the ground when I came around to the back," says Erik. "I picked up Cole first because I came to him first to move him away from the car, and I think Grant was already starting to move. I asked if he could move, he said he wasn't sure."
Erik brought his sons to the side of the road. Strangers offered towels to stop the blood. Erik used Cole's belt as a tourniquet, and then he used someone's cell phone to call 911.
"We had a bad accident, my car blew up with two kids," said Chappell on the tapes. "I'm telling you what's going on with the boys...I've got two significant leg injuries, one to his bottom left leg, and then one to his left buttocks, they're chewed up pretty good…deep tissue wounds, they are bleeding, I need someone here now."
Ambulances raced the three victims to a Monroe hospital, where a frantic Maureen Chappell would arrive to police swarming the building. The investigation was already underway.
"Erik was in the first bed, Grant in the second, and Cole in the third," says Maureen, Erik's wife and the mother of the two boys.
The boys would be life-flighted to a Toledo hospital. Cole had a broken leg and numerous shrapnel wounds. Grant had open wounds as well including a gaping wound to his buttocks. Erik had a broken hand and burned nose. The boys had the worst of it, and would spend ten days in the hospital after emergency surgeries.
Their mom was with them 24 hours a day. She never left. Family and friends would help with the couple's two daughters.
"I would spend the first half of the night with Grant because he needed assistance because of the machines he was hooked up to," says Maureen. "And the second half of the night I would spend with Cole."
The boys would make a miraculous recovery. Both would be in school in a month. Grant was playing basketball by winter season, and Cole was on the baseball team by spring.
Meantime, the investigation raced on. Federal officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms quickly realized it was a bomb placed under the car.
Someone had targeted the attorney and his family. It was a stunning turn of events.
"Blown way, forgive the pun, I was flabbergasted," says Erik. "It's still to this day hard to register that somebody would do something like that."
Months later, investigators revealed that parts from a remote controlled toy car had been used to make the bomb.
The Chappells believe someone was watching and detonated the bomb.
"It's inexcusable, it's a cowardly act in the first place," says Erik. "But to be able to push a button knowing that two children are in the car, I don't know what type of person does that type of thing. To think that somebody had to have been close enough to the car and would have known they were in the car and still could have pushed a button to blow up a bomb...we're lucky to be alive."
Investigators have not said if they think someone detonated the device, or if it was set to a timer.
WHO DID IT?
Chappell says he believes the suspect must be connected to one of his cases, and gave investigators the names of four people he thinks could have been responsible.
"We sue people, and I've been doing this 20 years now, and I'm sure through the course of what I have done, I've made a few people angry," says Chappell.
Chappell will not specify which cases he thinks could be linked to the crime, but Action News uncovered a particularly nasty divorce case he handled.
In the case file, Action News found an email from the
husband of a woman Chappell represented. The man wrote to Erik "You think this is a game, you are sadly mistaken".
And in text messages which Action News also obtained through the court file, the man wrote to his wife that Erik "has broke me".
It is clear from the correspondence that the man blamed Chappell for his financial distress.
Sources told 7 the man behind the email and the text messages is one of several people being looked at.
"I prefer not to comment on any particular case," says Erik.
But Chappell does say he is aware of the unusual correspondence.
"You kind of blow it off, you don't think they're serious, people get mad, they make stupid comments but you never really think it's going to go to this level," says Chappell. "This incident I think has probably made a lot of people second guess what their response is to those types of threats."
Today, one year later, while the scars remain, all three say the physical injuries and emotional wounds have healed.
"The one-year anniversary brought it back to my mind a little, but other than that, it's just moving on with life," says Grant. "I think that this has just shown us that people can be both crazy and very nice, because of all the support we got afterwards," says Grant.
The family is looking at the good that's come from the horrifying crime.
"There's just the type of people that are just crazy, that do crazy stuff, that don't think and just are willing to put a bomb underneath the car to kill two boys and a dad," says Cole.
Their dad says there is a silver lining.
"I think they each know that they're two pretty strong characters and that what life throws at them they're going to be able to get through," says Erik.
Today the case remains unsolved and no suspects have ever been named.
The family is hopeful that the car ride to football practice, intercepted by a mysterious suspect with a remote-controlled bomb, will eventually end in justice.
A $20,000 reward is being offered for any information that leads to an arrest.
The tip line is 1-888-ATF bomb.