SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah man who fatally shot his wife, her mother and their five kids before turning the gun on himself had been investigated two years prior for child abuse, but local police and prosecutors decided not to criminally charge him, new records released Tuesday show.
Police records obtained by The Associated Press shed light on warning signs and a previous police investigation into a violent pattern of behavior Michael Haight exhibited toward his family.
Authorities said they were aware of previous problems in the home but didn't elaborate during a news conference following the Jan. 4 killings in the small town of Enoch, citing an ongoing investigation.
In a 2020 interview with authorities, Macie Haight, the family's eldest daughter, detailed multiple assaults, including one where she was choked by her father and “very afraid that he was going to keep her from breathing and kill her.”
The child abuse investigation followed an Aug. 27, 2020, police call from a person who was not a family member reporting potential child abuse. Macie, then 14, told investigators that her father's violence started in 2017 and had included choking and shaking, including a recent episode in which he grabbed her by the shoulders and banged her into a wooden piece along the back of the couch.
Two years later, police found eight bodies at the family's home, including Macie's. The murder-suicide rocked Enoch, an 8,000-person, southern Utah town on the outskirts of Cedar City where neighbors and members of the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints described the Haights as a loving family.
An obituary published in the St. George Spectrum last week described Michael Haight in glowing terms as an Eagle Scout, businessman and father who “made it a point to spend quality time with each and every one of his children." The obituary made no mention of the killings and was taken offline after backlash.
Police believe Haight, 42, carried out the shootings two weeks after his wife had filed for divorce and just days after her relatives say he took guns from the house that could have been used to stop him.
Two years before, in his interview with investigators, Haight denied assaulting his daughter and said the report was a misunderstanding. He said Macie was “mouthy” and admitted to getting angry, attributing some struggles to his father's death and brother's divorce.
The investigator's notes also shed light on Haight's treatment of his wife, Tausha Haight. Macie told investigators that her father would often belittle her mother, a charge he denied. In his interview, however, Michael Haight said he had taken his wife's iPad and cellphone to surveil her text messages to check if she had spoken negatively about his family.
Tausha Haight told authorities she didn't want criminal charges filed against her husband and hoped the investigation would be “a wake-up call” for him.
Though an investigator told Michael Haight that his behavior was “close to assaultive,” Enoch Police and the Iron County Attorney decided not to file criminal charges against him.
Enoch city officials said in a statement that police investigated the child abuse allegations after receiving information from Utah's child protection agency, the Department of Child and Family Services. Officials with specialized training in child abuse did separate interviews with the daughter, father and mother.
They also did a “lethality assessment” with the mother, but it did not indicate a deadly relationship, the statement from City Manager Rob Dotson said. The city, child protective services and prosecutors concluded the case did not meet requirements for prosecution, he said.
The Iron County attorney's office mostly echoed that in a statement in which it said the office had been called in 2020 and determined there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges against Haight. It added, however, that prosecutors were not sent interview transcripts or police reports from the Enoch Police to review.
“Although specifics are not articulated, this conclusion was likely based on an inability to prove each element of the offense(s) beyond reasonable doubt and/or statute of limitations barriers,” the statement said.
Matt Munson, the attorney for Michael Haight's family, did not comment.
Police found the Haight family's bodies after conducting a welfare check based on a call from a friend who said Tausha Haight had missed an appointment earlier in the week.
Enoch officials said the investigation of the deaths continues, but they did not provide updates in the statement late Tuesday.
The murder-suicide drew national attention and words of condolence from Utah officials and President Joe Biden. It underscored how family mass killings have become disturbingly common across the United States, occurring on average every 3.5 weeks for the past two decades.