CHICAGO (CBS) -- Gov. JB Pritzker has signed legislation creating a task force that will work to identify gaps in the state's domestic violence laws, in an effort to prevent tragedies like the 2019 murder of 18-month-old Colton Miller.
When Colton's father shot and killed him before taking his own life, his mother, Cassandra Tanner Miller, made it her mission to change the way law enforcement and the courts treat victims of domestic violence and their abusers.
She sought to create a new law to help fix all of the glaring loopholes that led to her family's tragedy.
"Why did it have to be my son? Why did it have to be Colton? And the more that I walk this journey I think maybe it was me that had to do it," she told CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey earlier this year, after
On Sept. 21, 2019, Cassandra was home in Joliet with Colton and her 9-year-old daughter, Camryn. She had just put down Colton for a nap. When she turned around, she saw her estranged husband in the door from the back porch into their kitchen.
"He just said 'Are you all ready to die today?' with this big smile on his face; and I just screamed, 'Cam, please go get your brother. Don't stop for anything,'" Cassandra recalled last year.
Cassandra said the details of what her estranged husband did that day are important for people to hear.
Christopher Michael Miller, 35, a former corrections officer and member of the Illinois National Guard, severely beat and strangled Cassandra until she lost consciousness.
"He dragged me by my hair," she said. "I was trying to grab things, see if I could get him to slow down."
After beating Cassandra, Christopher went up the stairs to the master bedroom, where Colton was sleeping.
Christopher shot and killed him.
"How could you do that to your baby?" Cassandra asked.
Christopher then beat and choked their daughter in the upstairs bathroom. When he saw Cassandra coming up the stairs, he let his daughter go, and fired shots at Cassandra and Camryn, who ran out of the house.
Moments later, Christopher shot and killed himself.
Cassandra did everything she was supposed to do to protect herself and her children from Christopher after they separated. She said law enforcement, the Illinois National Guard, and the judicial system all let her down.
There were so many red flags that were missed; from his revoked FOID card that was never turned in, to his unmonitored stint out on an I bond, to Cassandra's warning to the Illinois National Guard of his violent behavior and drug use that fell on deaf ears.
"It's a pain that takes your breath away at all hours of the day," she said. "We have not had anything that is a full comprehensive breakdown to see where the gaps are."
But thanks to Cassandra's fierce advocacy over the past two years, now that's going to happen with Colton's Law and Colton's Task Force.
"She has honored her son's memory every day, and his life, by working to protect other children from Colton's devastating fate," Gov. JB Pritzker said Friday of Cassandra as he signed Colton's Law.
The governor said Colton's death could have been prevented if authorities had responded to Cassandra's warnings appropriately, and the task force will examine the state's domestic violence laws and recommend changes to make sure that doesn't happen again.
Colton's Law creates a task force to dive deep into every aspect of the process, operation and enforcement of domestic violence laws, something that has never happened before.
"These task forces reflect your courageous work to fight for others. Both will play a vital role as we seek to further address the scourge of domestic violence," he said.
Illinois State Rep. David Welter (R-Morris), said the task force is expected to present an extensive report with their findings to the General Assembly sometime in 2022.
Welter recalled meeting with Cassandra in his office after Colton's death, as she brought an urn with his ashes and told Welter of her family's tragedy, seeking his help in passing legislation to prevent other families from facing the same nightmare.
"Colton Miller was a beautiful, happy, perfect boy from my district whose life was tragically taken from him as a direct result of domestic violence," he said. "I think about Colton just about every single day, and how we could prevent future fatalities like Colton, an innocent, beautiful, baby boy who did nothing to anybody, and nothing to deserve this."
"She pleaded for help, not just to one government agency, not just to the court systems, not just to the military in which he was serving. She was begging for help, and we failed her," he added.
This wasn't the first time lawmakers tried to pass this bill into law. Last year it flew out of committee and got unanimous support in the house, but the pandemic stopped the progress of that bill. They were so grateful to finally get it through.
"We need to figure out why this is happening, how do we stop it and what treatment can we give both the victims and the abusers so that this cycle doesn't continue," Cassandra said.
She said breaking that cycle is now her life's mission.
"What I wouldn't do to be able to have him here to hear him say, 'I'm really proud of you, mom," she said.
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