(ENOCH CITY, Utah) — Residents of Enoch City, Utah, are left grieving after police said a father shot and killed his seven family members before turning the gun on himself.
Their despair stems not only from the sheer tragedy of that Utah father’s alleged murder-suicide but also from its implications: five chairs empty in local schools; local police officers living with the trauma of discovering eight dead bodies during a routine welfare check; a family now perpetually missing from community events.
“No one will probably know what was going through the minds of these individuals,” said city manager Rob Dotson, who attempted to summarize the collective grief of Enoch City. “However, we do know that they were our friends, they were our neighbors, and that we loved them.”
Dotson spoke in front of a crowd of journalists on Thursday alongside the city’s mayor, police chief and a representative from the school district. As they tried to provide updates about the tragedy, their voices shook and their eyes glistened in the lighting of the press conference. “It’s not fear,” Dotson clarified; instead, their public emotions embodied the community’s reaction.
“This is what our public feels. Discussing it, talking to each other about it brings out these emotions,” he said.
A Family Lost
Dotson noted that the investigation is still ongoing.
According to neighbor Aaron Longrifle, the Haight family seemed like “great people.” Enoch City Mayor Geoffrey Chesnut was also a neighbor and described the younger Haights coming to play with his sons in his yard.
According to a press release from Enoch City, the Haight household at the time had eight members. Michael Haight, 42, lived with his wife, Tausha Haight, 40, and Tausha’s mother, Gail Earl, 78. The Haights had five children — three daughters aged 17, 12 and 7, and two sons aged 7 and 4.
Earl was residing in the home to provide “support through the difficulties that they were encountering,” according to Chesnut.
Police Chief Jackson Ames said the local police were “familiar with the family.” He noted that the police were involved in “some investigations with the family” years prior, though he did not provide specifics.
According to Chesnut, Tausha and one of her daughters attended a church event on Tuesday night. When Tausha missed an appointment on Wednesday, a community member requested a welfare check.
“The welfare check to locate Tasha became an effort to find the entire family,” said Dotson.
At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, law enforcement entered the Haight home to find the eight family members dead with gunshot wounds, according to Dotson.
“Evidence suggests that the suspect took his own life after killing seven others in the home,” according to a police press release.
A letter from the Iron County School District (ICSD) on Wednesday informed parents that the five children killed were students in the district.
Since the discovery of the bodies, Enoch City has witnessed an outpouring of support, including from neighboring towns, schools, the National Security Council and President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, according to Chesnut.
“Too many Americans have lost loved ones or had their lives forever changed due to gun violence, and gun violence remains the leading cause of death for children in America,” said a press release from the White House.
When asked about the motive, Chesnut mentioned that Tausha filed paperwork to begin divorce proceedings on Dec. 21, though he clarified that the investigation was still ongoing.
A statement obtained by ABC News from the Earl family additionally noted that weapons were intentionally removed from the home prior to the incident.
“Protective arms were purposely removed from the home prior to the incident because all adults were properly trained to protect human life,” the statement read.
Terry Earl, one of Gail Earl’s sons, clarified that the weapons were removed by Michael, “which ultimately left my sister and my mother vulnerable to his actions without any means to protect the children or themselves.”
A Community Responds
Chesnut described the small city of roughly 7,500 residents as a large family, even giving the example of one cul-de-sac that contained 55 children at one point.
“The neighbors are good, the people are wonderful and the efforts that we make on one another’s behalf is like family,” he told reporters.
“We all know this family; many of us have served with them in church and community, and gone to school with these individuals,” Dobson said at a press conference on Wednesday night. “And so this community at this time is hurting, they’re feeling loss, they are feeling pain, they have a lot of questions which is natural.”
Though Longrifle described Enoch as a “quiet town,” he said that Wednesday’s tragedy forces him to change his perspective.
“We don’t normally lock our doors; our doors are wide open all hours of the day, all hours of the night,” he said. “Anybody could walk in at any time, you know, but that’s now going to be changing.”
Added neighbor Desi Herring: “All I can say is in all my years living in Enoch, 21 years, I have never seen such a tragedy hit our community.”
Utah’s “Dark Cloud of Suicide”
In the aftermath of the murder-suicide, community members are struggling to comprehend the magnitude of the loss.
For Longrifle, the tragedy exemplified Utah’s suicide problem.
“I believe that Utah is just covered in a dark cloud of suicide,” he said.
A spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the Haight family was a part of its local LDS church. It held a remembrance ceremony for the family Thursday night.
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