A Father's Loss: Life After the Murder - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

A Father's Loss: Life After the Murder

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Seven days have passed since a father found his 19-year-old daughter murdered in her apartment, but the healing process has hardly just begun.
Harley Leritz, 21, was arrested last week after admitting to police he suffocated Kiela Knowles in her apartment in Park Rapids, Minnesota. Investigators are trying to piece together the final moments of Kiela's life, as her family is trying to bring her murder to justice.
But, Kiela's father agreed to sit down with us for an exclusive interview. Valley News Team's Hope Hanselman shares what Mel Knowles found that day and how he's trying to keep moving forward.

"I would give anything to turn time around and say, 'No, I think you need to just stay here,'" Mel Knowles said as his head sunk. He hasn't slept much since that night, replaying those last words to his teenage daughter: Be careful; call me when you can. He describes Kiela as a girl who had more ambition than time, more fire than most.
Mel's only child was about to earn her Driver's License and her GED. But, a path that was meant to lead to a better life instead took Mel to the nightmare haunting him since.
"I stopped in to just leave her a note or see if she was there," Mel recalled about Monday morning before he left town for work. "First warning bell was when I opened the door, it was shut but it wasn't locked. That's just not like her at all." Mel describes turning on the kitchen light, seeing through the cracked bedroom door her legs resting on the bed.
"I was calling her name, kind of loud because she's a heavy sleeper and got no response. Then, I kind of started noticing things weren't right and then I clicked on the light and I had to shut it off. I just pretty much bolted out of that room."
Mel called 9-1-1, knowing immediately his daughter wasn't alive.
"The worst part is, I had to go back in there, turn on the light and touch her body to see if there was any kind of pulse or anything. That's an image that will go to my grave," he said as his eyes closed tightly.
Mel says he had never heard of Harley Leritz, the man accused of killing his daughter. Only after her death, he learned from her friends that she had been asking about him. But, Monday afternoon he saw Leritz hauled away in hand cuffs.
Now, Mel holds on to what he has left of his daughter. He says he sees Kiela in her two-year-old son Kaden's eyes. The toddler has been clinging to Mel's cell phone over the past week. The image set as the home screen shows Kiela and Kaden when he was a baby.
"He talks to it, kisses the picture, goes to sleep with it," Mel said. He says the hardest part for him now is to know his grandson will no longer get to see his mother- that she will miss out on his graduation, that he will miss out on her accomplishments.
Kaden is the only one who sleeps these days, but it's a dream they all share: that one day they all won't feel so far away.

Mel shares some advice with those who knew Kiela. "Be strong," he says. "She would want you to be there, be there for Kaden. Watch him as he's growing up so that you can tell him all about his mama."
He also shares some advice with other parents. He wants other families to pay closer attention to who your children are spending time with, where they are and what they're interested in.

If you'd like to donate to the Kaden James Knowles Benefit Account, contact TruStar Federal Credit Union in Menahga, Minnesota at (218)564-5678. The Account Number is 75528 and the Routing Number is 291 274 108.

Memorial arrangements are to be determined among the Knowles family.

Leritz is to be in court Monday, March 17. Mel says he'll attend, but not to pass judgment. That, he says, is not his call.


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