"Just a Good Man Who Snapped"
The Truth and Lies About Michael Haight's Murder-Suicide
On Wednesday, January 4, 2023, concerned neighbors of 4923 North Albert Drive in Enoch City, Utah walked into Michael and Tausha Haight's home and found eight people's bodies; forty-two-year-old Michael, his forty-year-old wife Tausha, and their five children; seventeen-year-old Macie, twelve-year-old Briley, twin seven-year-olds Ammon and Sienna, and four-year-old Gavin. Tausha's seventy-eight-year-old mother, Gail Earle, was the eighth victim. Each of them had fatal gunshot wounds.
But this is no who-dun-it. It quickly became clear that Michael Haight had systematically killed his entire family and then committed suicide. Friends and surviving family members said they were stunned. A subsequent obituary described him in glowing terms as an outstanding member of his community, emphasizing his dedication to his family and how he enjoyed making memories with his children:
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"He spent many evenings and Saturdays coaching the children's city league sporting teams, attending the children's concerts at school, going on side-by-side rides, doing home-improvement projects, sledding, and much more. . . "Michael lived a life of service. Whether it was serving in the church or in the community, he was willing to help with whatever was needed."
This may have been the only Michael Haight some people knew. But not everyone. Enoch City is a small town about halfway between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. It has just 8000 residents. Most of them, like the Haights, are actively involved in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's a town where everyone knows everyone else, and secrets are hard to keep. And some people knew that Michael Haight at home was not the persona he presented in public.
Shining a Light Behind Closed Doors
The first clue that others knew all was not right in the Haight home comes from a 2020 police report. On August 27, 2020, an unnamed nonfamily member contacted local police to report possible child abuse at the Haight home. (Someone - perhaps the same caller - had also notified the Utah Division of Child and Family Services). Fourteen-year-old Macie, the oldest daughter, had talked to this person about her fear of her father and the behaviors that caused it.
Macie and her parents were each interviewed separately. According to the 2020 police report, Macie told them some disturbing things. She described ongoing emotional and verbal abuse directed at the kids and her mother, Tausha. She said her father's physical abuse had begun in 2017 when she was eleven. She said he had assaulted her over the past three years on several occasions, including once when he had choked her to the point where she had been afraid he would kill her. She also said that her father would take her mother's phone to keep her from leaving the house and often told her mother how 'stupid and lazy" she was.
The police then talked to Tausha. Tausha told the police she did not want her husband arrested or charged. She also hoped their visit would be a "wake-up call" to her husband.
Police also conducted a Lethality Assessment, an eleven-item questionnaire introduced in Maryland over two decades ago to assess the risk an intimate partner in a domestic violence situation is at risk of being murdered. Each question is based on statistical data that draws correlations between certain behaviors and danger to potential victims' lives. They include questions about prior threats, access to firearms, and a history of behavior such as choking, jealousy, or spying. In general, the more affirmative answers the victim gives, the higher the risk.
Some questions carry more weight than others. Answering yes to any one of these three, for example, places them at "high risk" and triggers an automatic referral to a domestic violence shelter:
Has he ever used a weapon against you or threatened you with a weapon?
Had he ever threatened to kill you or your children?
Do you think they might try to kill you?
Tausha answered "no" to each of these. Of the remaining eight questions, responding "yes" to four or more results in a high-risk designation. Tausha answered "yes" to two; she acknowledged that her husband had easy access to firearms, and they had, at some point, separated after marriage.
She denied that Michael had tried to control her daily activities, choked her, threatened to kill himself, or followed/spied on her. So, overall, her "score" of two out of eleven would not place her in the high-risk category.
Except there was additional evidence to consider. While Michael insisted the entire complaint was just one big misunderstanding, he admitted spying on his wife - taking her phone and Ipad to work and reading her messages. He said he was investigating whether or not Tausha and his soon-to-be-ex-sister-in-law were talking badly about him. Macie had already told investigators that her father often took her mother's cell phone to prevent her from leaving the house.
So Michael was trying to control his wife's life. He was spying on her. And, while we don't know if he had ever put his hands around Tausha's neck, he certainly had his daughter's. She was in the high-risk category.
The choking incident alone should have put her there.
A Harbinger of Death
We must take every form of domestic violence seriously. We can't predict who will be the next domestic violence homicide victim, although God knows we try. But research is shedding light on how we can prevent them.
And research is clear about the link between putting your hands around someone's neck and your ability (and willingness) to kill them. A person involved in a domestic violence attack that involves choking or strangulation is more than 750% more likely to be killed by their offender in the next year. It is such a predictor of danger that some states, like New Mexico, make strangulation a trackable felony offense.
Not only is a history of strangulation a hallmark of domestic homicide, but it is also often found in the history of violent perpetrators in general. Some studies have shown that over eighty percent of offenders who kill police officers have a strangulation history.
Stalking is another red flag. While Michael Haight described the entire 2020 investigation as a "misunderstanding," he acknowledged stealing Tausha's Ipad and phone without her permission to spy on her. Perhaps most telling, after repeatedly denying that she was in danger, at the end of the investigation, Tauna seemed fearful. "What's going to happen next?" she asked the responding officer. "Are we safe?"
The Power of Social Support
At the end of the 2020 police visit, Haight was warned that his behavior "bordered on assaultive." Police also admonished him against interfering with his wife or daughter seeing a therapist. Tausha began seeing one. The appointment she missed the day she died was with a therapist at a woman's crisis center.
There's a reason why abusers isolate their victims. Perhaps for the first time in almost twenty years, Tausha was exposed to people who didn't believe it was her sacred duty to stay in an abusive marriage. She talked to people who think women have rights of their own. She got stronger.
I wonder what personal evolution Tausha went through as she began to get more support for getting out of her abusive marriage. On December 21, 2022, she filed for divorce. Michael was served on December 27. He refused to leave the house. Her sister-in-law got out from under her marriage and was supportive of Tausha. Tausha's mother had come to stay with her while she went through her separation and divorce.
But Tausha was scared. In the month or so before Michael Haight murdered his family, Tausha spoke with police, again expressing concerns for her safety. She told a police officer about a month before she died that she "didn't trust" her husband. She told her therapist the same thing.
Macie, now seventeen, was also scared. The night she died, Macie texted a friend, saying her dad was acting "weird" and she was worried. Macie, who did everything right and still died.
This is Not How Someone Snaps
We'll never know what happened in the Haight household or who knew about it. After the murder, Lindsey Hansen Park posted this:
"My brother and sister-in-law were good friends of theirs for years . . .My brother said he was controlling, manipulative and mentally abusive for years but no one knew how bad until recently. He would demand she have dinner on the table ready when he got home. No one ate until he took a bite. If she was preparing dinner and he would call and want something else, she had to start over. Once he was late coming home so she let the kids start eating. When he got home and saw them eating without him, he threw all the food on the floor and made her start dinner all over again."
"He controlled her friendships and what she could/could not do. He controlled her access to money and she had a meager allowance to pay bills and care for the kids. He hit her and would choke her until she passed out. My bro says his biggest fear now is that he'll get off thinking he was a good guy who somehow snapped or had mental illness. He was not."
Tausha Haight had been in an abusive relationship for years. Domestic abusers often rule their relationships with manipulation, intimidation, and control long before they raise a hand to their partner. They do it deliberately and purposefully.
Fortunately, most domestic violence does not end with murder. But, when it does, it is typically planned and premeditated. According to a search warrant affidavit, Haight had searched "how loud" the sound of multiple weapons might be and whether neighbors could hear them. "How loud is a 9mm? How loud is a 40mm? Can you hear a gunshot in a house? Can neighbors hear gunshots?"
These searches were placed on the night of December 30, 2022, five days before the murders. Clearly, Michael was thinking ahead.
The Bottom Line
Physical violence often comes after a long history of manipulation and control. Michael Haight reportedly controlled his wife's access to money, food, and friendships for years. Through his criticism and belittlement, he also tried to control her self-esteem. When he saw her slipping through his fingers, his behavior escalated. When that failed, he murdered his entire family.
Is this the story of a good man who snapped? You decide.
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It is a story of a system that failed all members of that family including Michael.