Police in Utah arrested a 39-year-old woman Sunday morning after finding seven dead babies in a home in which she lived until 2011. Megan Huntsman is currently in the Utah County Jail and is being investigated for six counts of murder for allegedly killing the infants. As in every case of this nature, people find themselves seeking answers on how a mother could kill her own children.
Huntman’s former husband and Huntsman lived in his parents’ home in Pleasant Grove, Utah, until 2011. As he was cleaning out the garage in order to move back into the home, he discovered one box that contained the body of an infant and called the police. After obtaining a search warrant, police searching the home discovered an additional six dead babies. Those six had been stored in cardboard boxes in the garage of the home, according to police Captain Michael Roberts.
According to a press release issued by Utah police, it is believed that Huntsman gave birth to the seven babies and then immediately killed them. Although it is thought that the father of the children is Huntsman’s ex-husband, DNA testing will be performed in order to be certain. Authorities do not consider him a suspect in the case.
A neighbor reported that although Huntsman’s weight did fluctuate over time, she never considered that she was pregnant. The neighbor even asked Huntsman to babysit her infant grandson several times.
Huntsman had three other daughters with her ex-husband. All three, who range from 20-years-old to 13-years-old, are alive and are living in the house in which the dead infants were found.
Medical publications generally use the term neonaticide to refer to the murder of a child within the first 24 hours of its life. The practice was widespread in many ancient civilizations for three main reasons – congenital abnormality, economics and female gender. Babies born deformed or weak were killed to prevent them from passing along those traits to their offspring as well as to prevent them from being a burden on the state. In other cultures, female neonaticide has been practiced due to a preference for sons, not only to exert male dominance over the household, but also because sons had much more earning power than daughters, who were seen as more of a liability to a family. Some civilizations believed female neonaticide to be an effective method of population control.
Do historical cases provide any sort of reason as to why modern mothers kill their infants? A study from 1982 – 1988 in England and Wales found that rates of neonaticide were not higher among boys or vice versa, but that the prevalence seemed to be equal between the sexes. No data has been found to suggest that infants with congenital defects are at a higher risk of being killed by their mother. The rates of neonaticide are not higher among mothers who live in poverty. What has been found to be a risk factor for the practice is being a young mother living at home with her parents and concealing her pregnancy.
In the case of Huntsman, it appears as though barring concealment of pregnancy, none of the main risk factors apply, leaving only one option to possibly explain her actions – mental illness. Several studies have been conducted to determine if rates of mental illness are higher among woman who commit neonaticide only to find that there was no higher rate of psychosis or mental illness among women who kill their infants. It remains a common misconception because when cases in which mothers kill their own infants emerge, one can only think that the mother “must be crazy” to do that.
Investigators may never determine the reason why Huntsman allegedly killed seven of her own children. She herself may not even know. In the final analysis, her reasons are not important. What truly matters is that seven children were born and seven children were then murdered.
By Jennifer Pfalz