KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — As searches continue in Kalamazoo County for a missing mom, her eight children are staying with relatives struggling to not only protect them but also to clothe and feed them.

Heather Kelley’s brother, Todd Kelley, and his wife Stacy Kelley have been caring for her children since shortly after Christmas.

“Five-year-old, a little girl; 7-year-old, a little boy; 8-year-old, a little girl,” Aunt Stacy rattled them off in order. “Ten-year-old, a girl; 13-year-old, a boy; 15-year-old, a girl; 16-year-old, a boy, 17-year-old a boy.”

That’s in addition to the two kids the couple already had.

“Rough isn’t the word for it, man,” Todd Kelley said. “It’s hard, so, but we got them. They’re the only piece of her that I have.”

Their mom, 35-year-old Heather Kelley of Portage, disappeared on Dec. 10 after telling her kids she was headed to downtown Kalamazoo to pick up an acquaintance. Police said they found her car in the area of S. Sprinkle Road and E. Michigan Avenue the next day, along with evidence of a violent crime. There have been more than half a dozen searches, including one Friday of ponds near where her car was found — not based on any specific tips — by Kalamazoo and Washtenaw county dive teams, according to Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller. They turned up nothing.

An undated photo of Heather Kelley. (Courtesy National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems)
An undated photo of Heather Kelley. (Courtesy National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems)

Her family says she was dating a man who only recently got out of federal prison in a drug and weapons case that included a murder-for-hire plot. He was arrested on Dec. 14, four days after the disappearance, on a separate charge. Police refused to say if he’s their person of interest.

For now, the kids are staying with Todd and Stacy Kelley in the couple’s 1,300-square-foot home; three bedrooms, one bath.

“We have lots of couches, one kid on each end, and the bigger ones lay on a mattress for now,” Stacy Kelley said.

“We’re just making do, I guess,” her husband said.

They live in farm country about an hour from Kalamazoo. They asked that News 8 not say exactly where.

“We don’t know what’s going on exactly. We don’t know,” Stacy Kelley said. “We just don’t know too much, and I don’t want any dangers where we are.”

“We’re going to keep them temporarily for the time being,” Todd Kelley said. “But the goal is, if their mother doesn’t come back in the picture, that we just make sure that they stay with family, no matter what. Whether it’s with me or somebody else, but they have to be with family. Going to a foster home shouldn’t be an option.”

They’ve gotten some donations through a Facebook Marketplace post — a bunk bed, bags of clothes — but they need more. A friend has set up a GoFundMe account.

“We seem to be making it, so I mean, things aren’t easy,” Todd Kelley said. “We just need food and clothes and things like that, but anything would help. We’re just going to do whatever we have to do no matter what.”

His wife is now cooking for 12.

“I have to cook in bulk now, big bulk, goulash and chili,” she said. “Just make big pots. That’s another thing we do need, is bigger pots and pans, because I’m only used to cooking for four or five people.”

They say the children talk daily with their father, who is living with their grandfather in a small mobile home in Kalamazoo.

The youngest kids, they said, wonder what’s taking mom so long to come home.

“They don’t understand what’s going on,” the uncle said. “They’re young. All they think is their mom’s going to come back home. So we’re not telling them things they shouldn’t know.”

Todd Kelley is now caring for the eight children of his sister Heather Kelley. (Jan. 12, 2023)
Todd Kelley is now caring for the eight children of his sister Heather Kelley. (Jan. 12, 2023)

Todd Kelley himself has given up hope:

“She wouldn’t be gone right now if it wasn’t against her will,” he said. “I absolutely think she’s not here anymore. I’m her brother. I don’t even want to say that, but, my sister wouldn’t leave her kids.”

Silent Observer is offering a reward of up to $5,000 in the case. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office at 269.383.8723 or Silent Observer at 269.343.2100.