The tears flow, the questions nag and the frustration, bordering at times on quiet rage, simmers.
“It was a murder,” says Sheila Miller, Mark Miller’s mother.
Mark Miller’s brother, Charles Parker, can’t fathom what would have led someone to kill his sibling — found dead Thursday in a barrel in the St. Joseph River — in such heinous fashion.
“What did he do so bad that (somebody) had to do this to my brother? To me that is a heartless killer,” he says.
It’s Saturday, two days after the discovery of Mark Miller’s body, and the search for answers to somehow understand the matter, if that’s even possible, runs at full bore. Parker, Sheila Miller and Mellisa Breden-Miller, Mark Miller’s ex-wife, are gathered at Parker’s Elkhart County home, grappling.
“None of us are going to stop until we have justice and whoever did this is behind bars,” says Breden-Miller, with the two young boys she had with Mark Miller, Markus, 6, and Jayden, 4. Mark Miller also had a daughter, Alexis, 2.
Whoever did it, Parker thinks they should face the maximum punishment possible, “and hopefully it’ll be a death sentence,” he says.
The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department is investigating but hasn’t said much at this early stage, hasn’t reported any arrests, hasn’t specified how he died exactly. Authorities, though, call the man’s death a homicide.
Mark Miller, a tattoo artist in the Dunlap area, went missing on Sept. 7, and a dedicated band of friends and family had searched tirelessly for him since then. In the end, though, it was a team of workers removing logs from the St. Joseph River that happened across the barrel containing Miller’s body.
Parker thinks whoever put the barrel there — off the southern bank of the St. Joseph River on the west side of Six Span Bridge — hoped it’d never be found.
As they talk, it isn’t just about calls for justice. There are the memories of Mark Miller, who was 44.
He loved drawing, excelled at it, which led to his career as a tattoo artist, most recently in a shop off U.S. 33 in the Dunlap area, where he had been living. His mom, Breden-Miller and Parker all have body art courtesy of Mark Miller.
“He was phenomenal at what he does,” says Breden-Miller.
“Very,” adds his mother, who lives in Florida and drove back to Elkhart County, where Mark Miller grew up, when she learned her son had gone missing.
Sheila Miller gets up, shows off one of the tattoos her son gave her, a small butterfly between the index finger and thumb on one of her hands. There’s another on her back, a hummingbird hovering around a bunch of flowers, the last one he gave her.
Beyond tattoos, he loved his kids, loved being with kids and making them smile.
“He was a good dad. He was an excellent dad,” says Breden-Miller. “Anything he could do with the boys and Alexis, he did.”
In fact, that he missed Markus’ sixth birthday on Sept. 9, among other things, tipped the family off that something was amiss. “He wouldn’t miss that birthday for the world,” says Breden-Miller.
That his mobile phone had been turned off when family tried to call him on Sept. 7, too, was strange. He was practically attached to the device and would take calls day or night, wanting to stay connected. He never turned it off.
Of course, Mark Miller wasn’t perfect. Who is? He had had run-ins with the law, a criminal history involving possession of drugs and battery.
That was the past, though, his family says. Mark Miller of the present was a changed man.
“He was learning from his mistakes,” says Parker.
He was trying to make amends, adds his mother. “He didn’t want to be mad at anybody. He wanted to be on good terms,” she says. “His past was his past. His future was totally different.”
They note that he was friends with practically everybody, even some law enforcement officials, clients at his shop.
“He knew people everywhere,” says Sheila Miller. “We’d walk into a store and he’d have maybe 20 people stop to say hi to him.”
The big mystery now — what happened on Sept. 7? What led to the barrel in the St. Joseph River?
“We’re not really sure of the events that happened Sept. 7,” says Breden-Miller. “We just know he didn’t call any of us.”
There was frustration with law enforcement, who, in the eyes of Mark Miller’s family, didn’t seem to be digging into the matter with sufficient zeal. They reported the man missing to the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department on Sept. 10.
Friends and family took matters into their own hands, scattering to search high and low. “Parks, railroad tracks, rivers, woods. Anywhere he could possibly be,” says Parker.
“We didn’t eat, we didn’t sleep. Nothing,” adds Breden-Miller.
Then, on Thursday, family members started getting phone calls from friends. The media reports a body has been found, somewhere around Six Span Bridge, the callers said.
Sheila Miller, Parker and other family members got uncomfortable feelings in the pits of their stomachs, but headed to the area. “It was probably the sickest feeling I’ve had in my life,” Parker says.
Authorities held the gathered group at bay as they investigated, but finally relented. They had identified Mark Miller by his tattoos and, still near Six Span, conveyed the grim news.
“All I remember them saying is that it was definitely Mark Miller,” says Sheila Miller. “I don’t remember anything after that, just screaming and screaming and screaming. You cannot imagine all the screaming and crying.”