West Valley City • Megan Huntsman was going to have another child just a few months ago.
Josh Flowers, who has lived next door to Huntsman in a West Valley City mobile-home park for the past year, remembers how the pregnant woman went to the hospital several months ago because of a miscarriage. Now, he sees the tragedy in a new context: Police say she had, and lost, seven other babies.
Adding a dark twist to that, investigators suspect Huntsman, 39, strangled or suffocated six of those prior infants right after she gave birth to them in her former Pleasant Grove home. The seventh was believed to be stillborn.
Investigators know Huntsman’s motive, police Capt. Michael Roberts said Tuesday. But they are declining to specify what it was, except to say that they do not suspect mental illness was involved.
Gov. Gary Herbert weighed in on the case Tuesday, calling it “incomprehensible.”
“We can’t wrap our minds around it or draw any kind of rational conclusion to why. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “I pray for the families. I pray for those who are struggling with this. It’s just such a tragedy. I suspect there are mental health issues there we don’t know about. It just makes me sad.”
Whatever the reason, the portrait of a longtime infanticide serial killer, whose alleged secret came to light Saturday, does not mesh at all with Flowers’ impression of a woman he called a great neighbor.
“She loved kids,” Flowers said Tuesday. After Huntsman moved in with her boyfriend a little more than a year ago, she started watching Flowers’ three toddler and grade-school-age children and his nephew. She would go to the park with them and play ball.
Flowers’ 10-year-old daughter in particular liked her.
“That’s where I’m still at. ... She watched my kids,” Flowers said. “She was in my house.”
Flowers’ impressions of Huntsman echo what her longtime neighbors in Pleasant Grove have said. One of them, Sharon Chipman, even let Huntsman watch her toddler-age grandson for years.
Flowers knew, though, that her life was not perfect. After her husband, Darren Brad West, 41, was convicted on drug charges in 2006, from what Flowers understands, that was an opening for West’s parents to ask Huntsman to start moving out, which she did in 2011.
Huntsman first lived with her mother in West Valley City, before moving in with the boyfriend at Meadowbrook Village Mobile Home Park, located at about 1300 West and 3900 South.
Then, her now-estranged husband was getting out of prison. West has been finishing his time at a halfway house and on Saturday had returned to their Pleasant Grove home, where their three daughters still live, to clear out the garage and prepare to move back this summer.
That was when, police say, West found one dead infant tucked inside a cardboard box in the garage and called law enforcement. Officers then came and found six more dead babies in boxes.
“It’s very disturbing,” Flowers said.
Police arrived Saturday at the mobile-home park to take in Huntsman for questioning. Her boyfriend was just getting back from his own mother’s funeral when he saw the police cars surrounding his house, Flowers said.
After they took her to the station, Huntsman admitted to the police that she gave birth to the seven infants between 1996 and 2006, and killed the six who were born alive, according to an arrest affidavit.
She was booked on suspicion of six counts of homicide into the Utah County jail, where she has been on suicide watch.
At a Monday hearing in Provo’s 4th District Court, a judge set bail at $6 million, cash-only.
Huntsman is scheduled to appear in court again April 21, at which time formal charges could be filed.
Flowers remembers hearing about a similar case on the East Coast and thought such a crime could never happen here.
He said he cannot imagine what Huntsman’s daughters — ages 20, 18 and 14 — must be going through, particularly since the youngest would have been born in the middle of the time frame when the other babies died.
It still does not add up to the woman Flowers knew. One of Huntsman’s elder daughters is currently pregnant, and Huntsman seemed to be excited at the prospect of becoming a grandmother, Flowers recalled.
“I don’t know how somebody can do that and go on with their day … be a good mother figure … and look at yourself in the mirror and be OK,” Flowers said.
Utah investigators are examining DNA from the babies to determine whom the parents are and studying the bones to find out how long ago the babies died. Greg Hess, Pima County chief medical examiner in southern Arizona, said forensic anthropologists should eventually be able to also determine the sex of the babies based on the DNA results, and determine if the babies were full term by examining the bones.
But they probably won’t be able to figure out if the babies were born alive unless one measures significantly bigger than a typical newborn or there are obvious signs of trauma that caused the death, Hess said. His office handles hundreds of bodies a year found in varying degrees of decomposition in the harsh Arizona desert.
The inability to scientifically determine if the babies were born alive could be key later if defense attorneys argue that the babies were stillborn.
The investigators are done with their initial interviews of family, friends and neighbors and are now digging into evidence, police captain Roberts said. But they haven’t ruled out doing more interviews or making more arrests.
“It is a slow, meticulous process,” Roberts said.
Next-door neighbor SanDee Wall said police asked her about whether Huntsman looked pregnant, if she was seen with other men and about a small trailer in the backyard. Wall told them she noticed weight fluctuations through the years, but didn’t notice any men coming and going or anything odd happening in the trailer.
Tribune reporter Thomas Burr and The Associated Press contributed to this story.