The bodies of Monica Cannady and her two sons, Kyle Milton Jr., 8, and Malik Milton 3, were found Sunday near the corner of Branch Street and Gillespie Avenue in Pontiac. A third child, a 10-year-old girl, survived and is currently hospitalized and recovering from hypothermia, according to Sheriff Mike Bouchard.
He said an autopsy shows Cannady and her sons died from hypothermia and their deaths are considered accidental. National Weather Service records show temperatures Saturday night into Sunday morning were in mid-to-low 20s, then high teens, with wind chills falling to 10 degrees.
Bouchard said Cannady has been having severe mental health issues and was frightened that people were trying to kill her, including her family members and police. He said police learned from her surviving daughter that she had instructed her children to run and hide if anyone approached them.
On Saturday, he said, she told her children to lie down in a field to go to sleep. Only the girl woke up. When she couldn’t rouse her family, she took her mother’s coat and walked to a nearby home to ask for help, he said. She told the person who answered the door that her family was dead in the field.
The family wasn’t homeless, Bouchard said, but Cannady’s mental health issues kept her away from her apartment, about a mile from where she and her sons died. He said there’s no indication that drugs played any role in the tragedy but results of the toxicology test will take weeks. The children’s father, Kyle Milton, was shot dead in Nov. 4, 2021.
The trial for the man accused of his murder and another man’s death is currently underway, with closing arguments set for Tuesday.
“This was a mental-health crisis. She had housing. She had a family that cared,” Bouchard said, adding that her family had been trying to arrange in-patient care for Cannady when she disappeared.
Bouchard said once Cannady’s daughter recovers from hypothermia, she’ll be released to the care of family members.
He emphasized the importance of people getting mental health help as soon as possible and for family members to make calls for those who cannot help themselves. Cannady’s family had been making calls, he said, but she refused.
Mayor Tim Greimel urged people to get mental health support when they are in a crisis.
Bouchard, Greimel and others said the deaths were preventable.
“It was preventable if we all communicated with each other,” Bouchard said. “At the point when the family knew a crisis was developing, if they called us or these phone numbers (referring to county resource numbers) then we would have popped up assets to look for the kids and the mom. We would have known it was something more than just maybe somebody was walking down the street who didn’t have a coat on.”
When police were alerted by neighbors that they’d spotted a woman and some children not dressed for the weather, deputies were unable to find any trace of them. Signs in the area say there are cameras watching the land, but Bouchard said he’s not aware of any cameras there.
This neighborhood on Pontiac’s southside just north of Crystal Lake could be called peaceful or desolate. Monday morning, only the sound of birds interrupted the quiet as a small white dog wandered placidly across a few lawns. The street signs at the corner were gone, but the pole remains. Trash litters the street, with garbage bags and old tires dumped just outside the Lakeside property fence. Even the fence is damaged, leaving a wide opening to the uncultivated land.
It’s desolate, said two women standing outside their family home smoking cigarettes early Monday morning, a few doors away from the old Lakeside property. One had wrapped a blanket over her clothes as insulation from the 19-degree wind chill. Frost covered car windows, grass and trees, even as the sun rose. Neither woman wanted to be named, but they talked about seeing police cars converge at the corner on Monday. They expressed sorrow at not being able to help the family.
“I wish they would have knocked on our door. We have the brightest light here,” said the woman in the blanket, gesturing to a spotlight above the garage doors. She would like to see some action from city officials to clean up the Lakeside property – at least to cut down the trees and brush, which make the site attractive to homeless people and others. The women aren’t thrilled about a small grove of saplings on the northeast corner of Branch and Gillespie, because in a few years, they said, that will also become a magnet for people looking for shelter.
The incident happened in Councilwoman Melanie Rutherford’s district, on the city’s south side. She called the situation tragic and personal. As a younger, pregnant woman, Rutherford faced sleeping outside in cold weather. But she was able to get into a shelter and the next day workers there helped her find a home and benefits so she could get groceries and other supplies.
People now have fewer resources, Rutherford said.
“We absolutely need to address affordable housing, homelessness and mental health,” she said. “We absolutely need to protect the most-vulnerable people in our community.”
She said a tragedy like Monica Cannady and her sons’ deaths must never be allowed to happen again.
“We have to have this hard conversation. Now. Or somebody else is going to die,” she said.
Black women are often hesitant to ask for help, because of what she called “strong Black woman syndrome,” which prevents Black women in particular from admitting their vulnerability in a crisis. She wants to see the stigma attached to mental illness erased.
Like Rutherford, Councilman Mikal Goodman said he is distraught by the deaths, which he also called preventable.
“No person should be dying from exposure, and by extension any form of housing or shelter insecurity, when we have so many resources at our collective disposal,” he said. “There were multiple failures that lead up to this, and we need to figure out what they are so we can fix them so that this does not happen again.”
Bouchard said the county has a lot of programs, including Coats for the Cold, and deputies typically carry mittens or gloves to hand out when they spot people in need.
“We didn’t have it on our radar about a particular mom or three kids or a crisis,” he said.
Society is replete with people suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental-health challenges, he said.
“It takes strength to ask for help, it’s not weakness,” Bouchard said. “If it’s encouraged and if we have more mental-health resources available to everybody, I think it will go a long way.”
For now, he said, police respond daily to suicides and overdoses.
“Oftentimes, overdoses are self-medication. Basically we’re seeing death every day as a result of the mental-health crisis in this country,” he said, adding that police are challenged with the mental health crisis both in their daily work and in their personal lives
Increased funding for mental health services from state and federal agencies would help, he said, pointing to a $1.3 million cut from his office’s annual budget two years ago. Last year, he said, he added two positions dedicated to community mental health services. One is a license mental health worker to works with deputies when they go on crisis calls. The other is a peer-support deputy to work with sheriff’s office employees.
Adam Jenovai, Oakland Community Health Network’s chief operating officer, said people have a variety of options for help and that OCHN serves people whether they have insurance or not.
For help with non-emergency access to mental health support, call (248) 464-6363; for customer service, call (800) 341-2003. Anyone can call the customer service line for themselves or others, he said. Crisis services are available and that includes Common Ground.
Kristin Blevins manages Common Ground’s mobile crisis team, which connects people throughout the county to help. Offices are open around the clock at 1200 N. Telegraph, Building 32E in Pontiac. Clinicians can do mental health assessment and referrals. The crisis help line is (800) 231-1127.
The mobile unit can meet people in crisis where they are at, she said, adding that they also operate a crisis unit,, where a person can stay up to two weeks, as well as a behavioral health urgent care.
“However we can help, we would love to be there for someone who is in crisis,” she said, explaining that if a person feels they are in a mental-health crisis, that is considered valid and will be supported. People concerned about family members can also call or visit Common Ground offices to get support.
She said it can be tricky to navigate the mental health system, and Common Ground tries to simplify the process and help people connect to the right resources.
Family members have started a GoFundMe account to help with hospital bills and funeral expenses:https://www.gofundme.com/f/k84zv7-50000?qid=f7788c166d4ce737985b25716581b7d2.
Aileen Wingblad contributed to this story.