Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
- Police say a Utah man killed his wife, mother-in-law, 5 kids, and self in early January.
- Michael Haight was previously investigated for child abuse, police records obtained by Insider show.
- The killings came approximately two weeks after Tausha Haight filed for divorce, officials said.
In the early days of the new year, inside an idyllic family home still decorated for Christmas, police in Enoch, Utah stumbled into a house of horrors: Officers encountered eight dead bodies inside the Haight family home on the afternoon of January 4, 2023, an entire household annihilated in a brutal familicide.
Police say Michael Haight, 42, shot and killed his wife, Tausha Haight, 40, her mother, Gail Earl, 78, and the couple’s five children, three girls, and two boys ages 4 to 17, before committing suicide.
The husband and father turned the gun on his family approximately two weeks after his wife filed for divorce, authorities said earlier this month.
The senseless act sent shockwaves through the small southern Utah community, where most of the town’s 8,000 residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as Mormons outside the church. Neighbors and friends remembered the family as welcoming and active in the town’s religious community.
But police said they were familiar with the family and had investigated Michael Haight prior to the killings, suggesting the man’s propensity for violence was documented long before the unthinkable unfolded.
Documents released by the authorities and obtained by Insider paint a picture of an aggressive patriarch prone to physically assaulting his eldest daughter and stealing his wife’s electronics to secretly read her text messages in the years leading up to calamity.
A seemingly perfect family facade masked underlying strife
Like many young Mormon couples, Michael Haight and Tausha Earl were in their early 20s when they met as students at Southern Utah University and married in May 2003. Both members of the LDS faith, Michael was a former Boy Scout who served his mission in Brazil, according to his obituary, while Tausha studied child development at the university.
The couple settled in Enoch, a small city about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City, where Michael Haight found work as an insurance agent. His most recent employer, Allstate Insurance, told KSL-TV that he was no longer employed with them at the time of the killings in January 2023, though it was unclear when he left the company or why.
The couple had five children: Macie Haight, 17, Briley Haight, 12, Ammon Haight, 7, Sienna Haight, 7, and Gavin Haight, 4.
By all outside accounts, the Haights were a picture-perfect family, according to local media; neighbors recalled the family hosting a “walk-about” in 2021 to bring the community together and said they were often first to welcome new residents to the block.
Congenial recollections from outsiders are common in the aftermath of such brutalities, according to Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and an expert on intimate partner and domestic violence. But they rarely scratch the surface of what was likely unfolding in private; family murders are almost always precipitated by warning signs, she said.
“Neighbors will often say ‘oh he was a nice guy, I can’t believe this happened. It seems totally out of the blue,'” Campbell told Insider. “And I think to myself, ‘probably not.'”
In many ways, Michael Haight fits the profile of a family annihilator, Campbell told Insider, citing his gender, race, marital status, and education level as markers of his penchant for the alleged crime. The most common risk factor for a family murder is prior domestic violence against the perpetrator’s partner, Campbell said. But oftentimes, that abuse goes unreported to authorities.
“They’re reluctant to disclose the abuse to people,” Campbell said of wives. “Many times it’s because he has said to her ‘don’t you dare ever tell anyone else about this.'”
While police records obtained by Insider did not include any reports of Michael Haight committing physical violence against his wife, the documents did divulge unsettling allegations involving his eldest daughter.
Sharon Huntsman, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Cedar City, Utah, leaves flowers outside a home where eight family members were found dead in Enoch, Utah, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
AP Photo/Sam Metz
Michael Haight was investigated for child abuse but never charged
In August 2020, police investigated Michael Haight for alleged child abuse against his daughter Macie Haight after an individual outside the house reported the father to authorities, according to a police report obtained by Insider. The Department of Child and Family Services was already aware of the Haight family at the time an officer conducted interviews on the matter, the report said.
In an interview with police, Macie Haight, then 14, told an officer her father had been physically and emotionally assaultive toward her multiple times over recent years, describing three separate incidents in which she said her father physically grabbed her, choked her, or shook her.
During one encounter, she told police she was scared her father might kill her, records show.
Macie Haight also told the officer her dad frequently yelled and often belittled his wife in front of the kids, calling Tausha Haight “stupid” and “lazy.” The 14-year-old said she had seen her father take her mom’s cell phone away to keep his wife from leaving the home, according to the report.
Police later interviewed Michael Haight, who denied having ever grabbed his daughter in an assaultive way or choking her, though he later clarified that if he had done so, he didn’t mean it to be an assault, the police report said.
Michael Haight also denied ever putting down his wife in front of the children, but said he did lose his temper with the kids.
During the interview, the patriarch cited a “tough year” for his increasing stress, describing his father’s recent death and his brother’s impending divorce. He accused his wife and soon-to-be ex-sister-in-law of saying “mean things” about his own mother and sister, which he said prompted him to take Tausha Haight’s phone and look through her messages for evidence.
He also admitted to once taking his wife’s iPad to work with him for several days to look through her messages. When she accused him of having the device, he denied it and later slipped the iPad back where he’d found it, he told police.
The officer conducting the interview told Michael Haight his actions toward his daughter were “close to assaultive,” but ultimately declined to press charges, instead encouraging him to “continue seeing someone about his anger.”
Following the interview, Tausha Haight called the interviewing officer and asked what to expect when her husband returned home, concerned about whether “the family would be safe.”
The officer told her there was no indication Michael Haight would respond with violence, according to the report.
Tausha Haight told the officer she didn’t believe criminal charges were appropriate but expressed hope that the encounter would be a “wake-up call” for her husband.
Child abuse is sometimes, though not always, a precursor to family murders, Campbell said, but the 2020 investigation into Michael Haight should have “certainly been a red flag” to Child Protective Services.
“When CPS gets a report of child abuse, the best practice would be to find out if the mom is also being abused,” Campbell said. “They often go hand-in-hand.”
Police followed up with the Iron County Attorney’s Office, where it was determined there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges, the office said in a statement this month, though Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson also told KU-TV that the case was never formally screened for charges; officials instead came to the decision not to pursue prosecution over the phone.
Following the killings, Enoch City Manager Rob Dotson defended the police department, saying officials acted professionally during the child abuse investigation and followed best practices.
“There will be questions that everybody asks themselves: What if I had done this? What if I had done that? Those aren’t very good questions to ask,” Dotson said during a press conference earlier this month. “The question to ask is, what do we do now?”
Michael Haight’s alleged aggression toward children was previously documented
On an autumn evening in 2015, Michael Haight called local police to report a group of juveniles standing in the middle of the road blocking his vehicle’s path, according to a police report reviewed by Insider.
Though two of the kids were later charged with disorderly conduct, Michael Haight’s behavior during the incident stands out in the aftermath of his rampage.
When recounting his recollection of the incident to police, a juvenile who was with the others but not issued a citation said Michael Haight had begun to “act aggressive” during the encounter. The interviewing officer made no further notes regarding the child’s characterization.
Two unidentified woman hold back tears at a news conference at city hall on the murder of eight people in the same family on January 5, 2023 in Enoch, Utah
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Tausha Haight’s divorce filing preempted the killings
The seeming trigger for tragedy came in December.
Tausha Haight filed for divorce on December 21, 2022, according to court records reviewed by the Associated Press. Michael Haight was served with divorce papers on December 27, his wife’s lawyer said after the killings. The state of Utah keeps divorce proceeding details private.
James Park, who represented Tausha Haight in her divorce, told media outlets she never expressed to him a fear that she could be in danger from her husband.
But a signal of separation is often the final provocation that prompts family murderers to act, Campbell said,
“It is at that moment of time or shortly after she has left him that he goes and finds her and does this family annihilation,” she told Insider. “He has decided: If she’s going to leave him, they’re all better off dead.”
At some point prior to the massacre, Tausha Haight told family members that her husband removed all the firearms from the home, her sister-in-law, told the AP. Both Tausha Haight and Gail Earl, who was staying with her daughter and the couple’s children following the divorce filing, were trained in firearm safety.
Park said he last met with Tausha Haight on Tuesday, January 3 — the day before the family’s bodies were discovered. The mother and one of her daughters were later seen at a church event on the eve of the killings, Enoch City Mayor Geoffrey Chestnut said during a press conference earlier this month.
Initial reports said police were dispatched to the home for a welfare check on the afternoon of Wednesday, January 4 after Tausha Haight missed an appointment, but an unsealed search warrant obtained by KSL-TV this week revealed neighbors from the family’s church were actually the first people to enter the home and discover the bodies before authorities arrived to check on the family.
In the aftermath of tragedy, friends and family members have remembered Tausha Haight as an incredible mother who constantly sacrificed everything for her children,” her obituary said. “They were truly the most precious possessions she had.”
Meanwhile, Michael Haight’s obituary was removed from a local paper earlier this month after the write-up lauded him as a loving husband and father who “enjoyed making memories with his family,” while failing to mention his role in their untimely deaths.