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‘Who am I going to ride bikes with now?’: A small Utah community’s shock after murder-suicide leaves 8 family members dead

Police say a father shot and killed his wife, mother-in-law and five children

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Sharon Huntsman of Cedar City places flowers by police tape

Sharon Huntsman of Cedar City places flowers by police tape where eight members of a family were killed in their home in Enoch, Iron County, on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

It wasn’t that long ago that John Lavalla, of Enoch, met his neighbor Michael Haight. In March, Lavalla moved to the small but rapidly expanding southern Utah community. He was unloading his moving truck when Haight surprised him.

“Do you need help? I’m your new neighbor. My name is Mike,” he said. “Do you have any children?”

Lavalla, the father of a 6-year-old, said yes.

“Oh, I have twins that are six. That’s perfect, there’s no one else on the street who’s their age, they’re all older or younger. So they’ll be best friends,” Haight responded.

And best friends they became. Over the coming months, his daughter would spend hours riding bikes through the neighborhood with the Haight kids. And Lavalla, battling cancer, bonded with the friendly family across the street who would often check in and ask how his chemotherapy was going. Haight was reserved, but didn’t strike anyone as a killer.

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John Lavalla talks to the Deseret News inside of his home in Enoch, Iron County, on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Lavalla lives across the street from the scene in which police say 42-year-old Michael Haight killed his wife, Tausha Haight, 40, and Tausha’s mother, 78-year-old Gail Earl, and his five children — a 17-year-old female, 12-year-old female, 7-year-old female, 7-year-old male and a 4-year-old male — before taking his own life.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

But on Thursday, police said 42-year-old Haight shot and killed Tausha Haight, his wife of 20 years, their five children and Gail Earl, his mother-in-law, before turning the gun on himself.

Tausha had filed for divorce two weeks earlier, court records show.

The family — which includes a 17-year-old daughter, 12-year-old daughter, 7-year-old daughter, 7-year-old son and a 4-year-old son — were all found deceased Wednesday afternoon at about 4 p.m. in their house on Albert Drive in Enoch, a small Iron County suburb pushed up against I-15 about eight miles north of Cedar City and 250 miles south of Salt Lake City.

“No one ever thought this would happen. And he is just not the type of person you thought could do this,” said Lavalla.

Someone who Tausha Haight had an appointment with Wednesday morning called police asking for a welfare check after she didn’t show up, Enoch city manager Rob Dotson told reporters.

“A few hours after that welfare check a call came in and Tausha was not located, a missing persons report was requested and was received by the Cedar City Police Department,” Dotson said.

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The Haight family, including Tausha Haight, 40, and Mike Haight, 42, and the children found shot and killed inside a home in Enoch, Iron County. Michael Haight killed his wife, children and mother-in-law before turning the gun on himself Wednesday, police say.

Haight family photo

That missing persons report was then passed along to Enoch police, “at which point the welfare check to locate Tausha became an effort to locate the entire family,” he said.

Fifth District Court records in Cedar City show Tausha Haight filed for divorce on Dec. 21, 2022. On the same day, the court issued a domestic relations injunction saying both parties must not harass or intimidate each other, by any means, including electronically. It also warns against domestic violence or abuse against the other person or a child.

Enoch Police Chief Jackson Ames said the department had investigated the family a couple years ago. He didn’t elaborate on what was investigated Thursday, but did say officers “were familiar with the family.” 

Officials could not confirm who was living in the house at the time of the shooting, although several neighbors who spoke with the Deseret News said they believed Michael and Tausha were still living together, and that Gail Earl, Tausha’s mother, had been at the home since Christmas to help the family transition amid the divorce.

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Community members walk away from a memorial that was created outside of a home in Enoch, Iron County, where police say 42-year-old Michael Haight killed his wife, Tausha Haight, 40, and Tausha’s mother, 78-year-old Gail Earl, and his five children — a 17-year-old female, 12-year-old female, 7-year-old female, 7-year-old male, and a 4-year-old male — before taking his own life, on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Other neighbors said the members of the family were active Latter-day Saints and the husband was an insurance agent.

When exactly the shooting happened is still under investigation, but Enoch Mayor Geoffrey Chestnut said several witnesses spoke with Tausha and one of her daughters at a church event the night before they were murdered.

City officials said they hadn’t heard any reports of gunshots or anything suspicious.

“They’re half-acre lots, big homes on half-acre lots,” Chestnut said about the neighborhood where the Haights lived. “You don’t hear a lot coming from your neighbor’s homes.”

Lavalla’s father-in-law, who asked that his name not be used, talked with Michael Haight on Sunday while he shoveled snow. “We’re going to get a lot of snow, get ready,” Haight said to him. And the next day, he saw Tausha, waving at him as she steered her truck out of the driveway. Later that afternoon she returned, waving again.

“She backed into the garage, like she always did. And that was the last time I saw her,” he told the Deseret News on Thursday.

Enoch officials say more information will be released as evidence is collected, witnesses are interviewed and autopsies are conducted. Investigators worked through the night Wednesday and into the next morning. Police say the bodies were removed early Thursday.

“It’s just a terrible thing to happen in a small town like this,” said Esther, who lives around the corner from the home and used to be in the same ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Everybody knows everyone here.”

Esther, who asked that only her first name be used, said her family learned of the shooting through a notice sent out by the Iron County School District.

The shooting sent shockwaves through the small but growing town, a mix of newly constructed suburbs and farms that about 7,500 people — many of them young families — call home.

Lavalla, the neighbor, knew something was off when he looked out his window and saw police officers peering into the windows of the Haights’ home on Wednesday. A few minutes later, they knocked on his door.

“They came to ask me, ‘did you see them leave? What did they drive? Where do they normally park?’ Typical welfare check questions,” he said.

Over the next hour, he started to put it together — the officers ringing the doorbell repeatedly. The two cars parked in the driveway. The Enoch city manager pacing outside the home. The police officer sprinting down the street.

“When they opened the garage, and her truck was there,” said Lavalla, pausing. “Then I knew it, that they were all gone.” 

His daughter spent the morning looking out the window at the Haight’s home, now taped off.

“Who am I going to ride bikes with now?” she asked.

Lavalla responded, telling her “we have plenty of friends in the neighborhood to ride bikes with.”

“No you don’t understand,” she said. “We all race, together. All of us, down the street. We can’t race if we don’t have all of them.”

An Iron County Sheriff’s Department trailer was parked outside the newly built, gray stucco home with Christmas lights still hanging from the roof and cars parked in the driveway. Yellow tape surrounded most of the block, and cars slowed down and drivers craned their necks, some taking pictures, as they passed Albert Drive.

A steady flow of people stopped by throughout the day, placing flowers and stuffed animals at the end of the street. A Latter-day Saint ward opened up for an informal vigil that night, with counselors available. Braving the biting evening rain, a group of girls brought bouquets to the neighborhood and took pictures, the flash from their camera phone momentarily lighting up the impromptu memorial.

Neighbors and city officials Thursday described the Haights as a seemingly happy family, who were active in both their church and community, and welcomed newcomers to the neighborhood, eager to help them move in.

“It’s not too often something like this hits pretty close to home,” said Chestnut, the mayor, who lives just a few doors down from the Haights.

“Their youngest children played in my yard with my sons,” he said, pausing, as his voice wavered. “Enoch city is a very close community ... no one wants to leave here. The neighbors are good, the people are wonderful and the efforts we make on one another's behalf is like family.”

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Enoch Mayor Geoffrey Chestnut speaks during a press conference regarding the killing of a family of seven by a relative in Enoch, Iron County, on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Police say a father killed his five children, his wife and a relative before taking his own life.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Teachers at nearby schools, just two days off of their Christmas break, struggled with how to approach the day, a source told the Deseret News. The five children attended a nearby high school, middle school and elementary school.

“There’s quite a few students who are gone today from our schools, and we recognize that the next several days, weeks, months that are coming are going to be difficult for our schools and our teachers,” said Tim Marriott with the Iron County School District.

In a news release, the school district said counselors would be available for students and parents.

“Our hearts go out to all those affected by this senseless violence. Please keep the community of Enoch in your prayers,” said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox Wednesday night. Cox also called the city’s mayor to offer his condolences.

The White House issued a statement on behalf of President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden Thursday, saying “there is more to be done to keep our homes, schools and communities safe” from gun violence.

“The President and First Lady are mourning with the Enoch City, Utah community in the wake of a tragic shooting that has reportedly claimed the lives of five children and multiple adults in their family home,” the statement reads. 

“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. Less than one month after we marked 10 years since the Sandy Hook tragedy, another mass shooting has claimed the lives of five more children in Enoch City.”