A child’s death is always tragic — but the death of a child who was murdered is almost unthinkable. And it is that unthinkable thought that has plagued a father’s memory of his son for more than 16 years.

James Eslick is that father, and 16-month-old Ethan Eslick was that son. Now, James is asking for the public to help investigators to solve what they believe was the murder of young Ethan.

According to Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike, Sheriff’s Deputies received a report Aug. 29, 2002 that Ethan M. Eslick, 16 months, was found dead by his mother, Kelly L. Axtell, age 24 at the time, at 47 Highland Drive in Dundee. The only other people present in the apartment were his 3-year-old brother, Jordan Eslick, who was uninjured, and Kelly’s live-in boyfriend, Ronald McGuire Sr., 28 at the time.

“The criminal investigation was extensive,” says Spike, “however, no arrests were made, and the matter turned into an open cold case.” Spike says that in late 2018, new leads were developed and Sheriff’s Criminal Investigation Division enlisted the resources of the New YorkState Police and the FBI to continue the cold case investigation. A new forensic examination by an FBI consultant of the photos and notes from the original report now finds that Ethan died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen. A new pathologist will examine the evidence for a formal finding. With that new report, Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella was granted a motion compelling Kelly Axtell, now 41 and called Anderson, and Ronald McGuire Sr., now 44, to submit to the taking of DNA samples by cheek swabs, and dental impressions to compare to bite marks found on Ethan’s body.

All these facts have been reported before, but what we have not understood is who Ethan was. It was recently noted by this reporter while attending the Dundee High School musical, that those teenage actors are the children Ethan would have grown up knowing, going to school with, and who will soon be graduating never having known him. Imagining Ethan as one of them on that stage was heartbreaking.

Who was Ethan, then? In a recent phone interview with his father, James, who had spent that summer with Ethan in Ohio, the visit ending just two weeks before Ethan’s death, James remembers his little son. All that summer, James says, Ethan was happy. “He was a happy kid. He never cried, and he loved being around people.” James says he slept all through the nights, and his roommates at the time loved Ethan, too. “He loved playing with toy cars, and was happy to do anything we were doing.”

Giving some idea of who Ethan might have become is his older brother, Jordan, now 19, who has been in James’ full custody since about the age of 5 after being in foster care in Yates County following Ethan’s death. Jordan was a wrestler and baseball player in school and graduated with good grades. He attended a technical school and now works as a firefighter in their Ohio town while also working at a car dealership. James’ love for and pride in his surviving son is as evident as his sadness for the loss of his other boy. Ten years ago, James and his wife, Danielle, were blessed with another son, but were astonished when the baby’s due date was the same as Ethan’s birthday. That boy came a month early, but it is a memory that still lingers in James’ mind.

It is with these constant memories that James now asks anyone from the time of Ethan’s death who might remember anything regarding Ethan or any event around that time to come forward with the information.

“All I ask is for anyone with information to come forward,” says James. “This case is tough after so many years. The investigators are working really hard to get to the truth, and we hope there are still people there who could help.”

“Do it for Ethan, not for me or my family or anyone else. Do it so he can be at rest after all these years,” he says.