Residents of Pleasant Grove, Utah, expressed shock Monday that a neighbor of 15 years – who had babysat their children and grandchildren – admitted to killing six of her own babies.
“She always seemed perfectly normal, very friendly,” says Aaron Hawker after Megan Huntsman, 39, was charged with six counts of murder in the deaths of the babies born between 1996 and 2006.
Huntsman’s estranged husband, Darren West, was cleaning out the garage when he found the remains of a baby sealed in a plastic bag in a sealed unlabeled cardboard box, Pleasant Grove Police Chief Mike Smith tells PEOPLE.
“He called Megan and she admitted she had killed the child. Then he called police,” Smith says.
Inside other boxes investigators found six more remains of babies. Six of the seven are believed to have been killed by strangulation and one appeared to have been stillborn, says Smith. Huntsman “confessed” to the killings, he says.
Huntsman moved out about two years ago and is living with a boyfriend, police say. Her estranged husband “says he knew nothing about this,” says the police chief; West has not been arrested or named a person of interest.
But questions remain.
“Most people don’t know how you don’t notice seven pregnancies,” says Smith. “It’s one thing to conceal it to the outside world and a more difficult thing to conceal from your loved ones. So we’ll have to continue to investigate that.”
Huntsman has three surviving daughters, two believed to be teenagers and one believed to be about 20, who had been living in the house, according to Smith.
The youngest daughter would have been born in the middle of the other pregnancies. “Why did this girl live?” asks Smith. “We’ll continue to try and find an answer to that one.”
Neighbors in this community 35 miles south of Salt Lake City, meanwhile, also remained baffled.
“She babysat our grandkids about 10 years ago. That’s how much we trusted her,” says Hawker. “We [are] all looking at each other saying, ‘Pregnant seven times and we didn’t know?’ … She fooled everyone, no question.”
The discovery of seven dead babies in cardboard boxes in a Utah garage has police desperately seeking answers from the mother and other family members about how such a tragedy unfolded over a decade with no one noticing.
Megan Huntsman, 39, is accused of killing her babies after giving birth to the children between 1996 and 2006, investigators said. She was booked Sunday into the Utah County Jail on six counts of murder. It wasn’t immediately clear if Huntsman has an attorney or why there were six counts and not seven.
The gruesome case has raised a series of questions about how the killings occurred despite Huntsman carrying out what neighbors said seemed like a normal existence. Police declined to comment on a motive and on what Huntsman said during an interview with investigators.
Husband Discovered a Body
Her estranged husband made the discovery while cleaning out the garage after recently getting out of prison. Authorities do not believe he was aware of the killings and he isn’t a person of interest at this time.
Police Capt. Michael Roberts said officers responded to a call from him Saturday about a dead infant, and then they found the six other bodies.
Family and neighbors identified the estranged husband as Darren West, who has been in prison on drug-related charges.
Roberts said police believe West and Huntsman were together when the babies were born.
“We don’t believe he had any knowledge of the situation,” Roberts told the Associated Press.
Asked how West could not have known about the situation, Roberts replied, “That’s the million-dollar question. Amazing.”
The babies’ bodies were sent to the Utah medical examiner’s office for tests, including one to determine the cause of death. DNA samples taken from the suspect and her husband will determine definitively whether the two are the parents, as investigators believe.
Huntsman also has three daughters – one teenager and two young adults – who lived at the house.
The home in Pleasant Grove, Utah, where seven infant bodies were found
Rick Bowmer / AP
‘An Awesome Dad’
Police say West made the grisly discovery at the house owned by his parents in a city of about 35,000 people at the foot of snow-capped mountains. It’s a nondescript, newer home with a brick facade and a star ornament hanging by the door.
Several police cars blocked the entrance to the house Sunday evening as officers milled about with the belongings from the garage strewn across the front lawn.
Late Sunday, West’s family issued a statement saying they were in a “state of shock and confusion.”
“We are mourning this tragic loss of life and we are trying to stay strong and help each other through this awful event,” the statement said before asking for privacy.
West pleaded guilty in federal court in 2005 to two counts of possessing chemicals intended to be used in manufacturing methamphetamine, court records show. In August 2006, he was sentenced to 9 years in prison, but appealed the term three times. He maintained his innocence and said he never had any intention to manufacture meth. It’s unclear when he was released.
West’s sister Sarah Wright wrote to federal district court in 2006, saying West is a good father to his three daughters. She said he worked at an excavation company for 11 years and is an avid outdoorsman who likes to fish and camp.
“Darren is such an awesome dad,” she wrote.
Neighbors in the middle-class neighborhood of mostly older homes 35 miles south of Salt Lake City say they were shocked by the accusations and perplexed that the woman’s older children still living in the home didn’t know their mother was pregnant or notice anything suspicious.
Neighbors told the AP they were shocked and horrified by the accusations of what went on inside the home. None of them even knew Huntsman was pregnant in recent years.
The family members seemed like nice people and good neighbors, said Aaron and Kathie Hawker, who lives next door.
Huntsman moved out several years ago, leaving her three daughters to live alone, the Hawkers said. They weren’t sure where Huntsman has since been living. Years ago, Huntsman baby-sat the Hawker grandchildren and they were friendly with each other.
“It makes us so sad, we want to cry,” Kathie Hawker said. “We enjoyed having them as a neighbor. This has just blown us away.”
Aaron Hawker said he talked with West on Saturday morning. He told Hawker he was cleaning out the mess in the garage.
“Two hours later, suddenly we had all these policemen here,” Aaron Hawker said.
Fred Newman, a neighbor whose cousin is the husband’s mother, said he’s perplexed how the three oldest daughters living there didn’t know about what police say was going on.
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