A mother in a mental health crisis and her children froze to death in a field. Could it have been prevented?

A Michigan mother and two of her children were found frozen to death on Sunday, with police describing the cause of the incident as a “mental health crisis.”

Here’s what we know about what happened.

A shocking police discovery

At 3.10pm on Sunday, 15 January, Oakland County deputies were called to an overgrown field near Pontiac, Michigan, where three bodies were discovered.

Police identified the deceased as Monica Cannady, 35, and her children Kyle Milton, Jr, nine, and Malik Milton, three.

Monica Cannady, 35, was found dead alongside her two young sons after the three froze to death in a Michigan park. A third child survived (Provided by family)
Monica Cannady, 35, was found dead alongside her two young sons after the three froze to death in a Michigan park. A third child survived (Provided by family)

Deputies were alerted to the scene when Cannady’s third child, 10, knocked on a stranger’s door and said that “her family was dead in a field,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said on Monday.

How did they die?

All three died of hypothermia, according to officials.

The death has been ruled an accident, Click On Detroit reports.

What happened?

Officials said Cannady took her children out of their apartment the previous week and was convinced people were out to kill her, including police officers. The mother reportedly instructed her children to run or hide if anyone approached them, and told the family to lie down and go to sleep in the field where they ultimately died.

“This tragedy was fundamentally evidentiary of the breakdown of our mental health system in America,” Sheriff Bouchard said on Monday. “We don’t give our mental health providers and systems enough support and have enough resources at their fingertips.”

Were there any warning signs?

Family members said Cannady was an attentive and competent mother, but noticed she started acting differently three weeks before her death, Fox 2 Detroit reports.

“She was a good mama. She took care of her babies. They were dressed warm, they had clothes always matching, hair done, they were clean,” Theresa Milton, Cannady’s mother-in-law, told WXYZ.

Once Cannady began acting strangely, family members tried to get her help, including being committed for mental health care, but the mother refused, according to Click On Detroit.

The site also reports police have reason to believe the mental health crisis came about following the shooting November 2021 death of Kyle Milton, Sr, the childrens’ father.

Residents near the field where the family was found also called police to report a family that appeared to be wandering the area without suitable winter clothes.

Cannady reportedly knocked on random homes asking for food, but wouldn’t accept money.

"It’s terrible," resident Charles Witherspoon, whose neighbour interacted with Cannady and her family in the days leading up to the deaths, told CBS Detroit. "It’s terrible."

Police said they were aware of the reports of the family wandering the area, but didn’t understand it was a mental health crisis at play.

“From our side, we were not called about a person or kids in crisis,” Mr Bouchard said on Monday. “We would get an occasional call, ‘Hey, there’s somebody in the area that doesn’t look like they’re appropriately dressed.’ Deputies would go there and look, and they weren’t there.”

What is the survivor’s condition?

Cannady’s surviving child, 10, is reportedly in the hospital in stable condition.

Child Protective Services is investigating the case, and the surviving child will be released to family members, Click On Detroit reports.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to support the survivor of the tragedy as well as pay for funeral expenses.