A woman and two of her children were found dead in a field over the weekend after wandering the streets of Pontiac, Michigan, for nearly three days amid freezing temperatures, authorities said.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said the deaths could have been prevented.
“This is a horrible, heart wrenching tragedy,” Pontiac Major Tim Greimel said at a news conference Monday.
The mother, Monica Latrice Cannady, 35, and her sons, Malik Milton, 3; and Kyle Milton, 9; were found dead after 3 pm Sunday, Bouchard said at the news conference.
He described them as underdressed and out in the open.
Cannady’s 10-year-old daughter, who survived, fell asleep in the field with her mother and brothers, woke up, walked to a nearby residence, and knocked on a door to ask for help, the sheriff said.
“The daughter took the coat off of mom when she came to,” Bouchard said.
He described the field as one of multiple patches of land in the community where homes once stood and vehicles were abandoned. The mother didn’t appear to seek shelter, she indicated during the news conference.
Temperatures in Pontiac over the weekend dipped into the low and middle teens at night, with daytime temperatures reaching the mid- to high-30s Sunday. The family lived in an apartment and had been walking around their community since Friday, Bouchard said.
At one point, Cannady took the family to a lake so she could drink the water, he said.
The sheriff cited an autopsy in stating the cause of death for the mother and her boys was hypothermia. The manner of death was listed as accidental, he said, but he added his own asterisk:
“I would put accidental-slash-preventable,” Bouchard said.
The woman had been acting paranoid in recent days, the sheriff and her brother said. Bouchard said she believed someone was tracking her phone with a microchip and expressed mistrust for authorities.
“The woman, the mother, was having a mental health crisis. She believed someone was trying to kill her and everyone was in on it, including the police,” Bouchard said.
He said the father of her children was murdered in 2021. The Detroit Free Press reported the killer’s trial recently took place.
“I really want answers because that’s not her,” Cannady’s brother, Andre Harsten, told NBC affiliate WDIV of Detroit. “She took care of them babies. That was her main priority.”
He said Cannady’s behavior shifted rapidly this month from normal to odd. She recently purchased a new car, Harsten told the station, indicating she was feeling fine. But more recently she refused her mother’s suggestion she seek help, he said.
Because the sheriff’s office had been alerted about people walking the streets without proper winter clothes, and because her relatives urged her to seek help, Bouchard suggested there were many points in her timeline when intervention might have saved lives.
He said deputies tried to contact the family but never spotted them. The surviving girl later told authorities her mother told the children to run if they saw anyone approach.
The sheriff said mental health providers and mental health emergency response teams — his office has two people who can respond to reports of disruptive people in crisis — need more funding from legislators in Michigan’s state capital as well as those in Washington, DC
Bouchard said alarming suicide statistics, including those for law enforcement, which can surpass line-of-duty deaths in the United States, show mental health problems are widespread and often unaddressed.
“Were seeing death everyday as a result of the mental health crisis,” the sheriff said. “And it sure would be nice if Washington and Lansing would tune in on it.”
Pontiac Councilwoman Melanie Rutherford said the crisis hits her community in a different way, with Black women often being pressured to be strong and refraining from seeking help.
“We have to have a candid conversation about mental health, especially in the African American community,” she said.
Rutherford said people with mental health problems, as well as their families and friends, can seek help and medication, available free of charge in some cases, without fear of being shunned.
“It is something that is normal, it is something that is treatable, it is something that is valid,” Rutherford said, “and most importantly, you can get the right kinds of treatment and medication.”