Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Melissa Huckaby and Mothers with Mental Illness

As the community of Tracy gathers to mourn Sandra Cantu in a public memorial today, the bay area is still reeling from the twists and turns this tragic case has taken. The usual formula for a child abduction and murder, is some sick and twisted male sexual offender who nabs an innocent child, molests, murders and then dumps their destroyed body somewhere secluded.

That is not the case with the story of 8 year old Sandra Cantu. She was not abducted from her neighborhood by a male stranger, but by the mother of her 5 year old friend. This mother, 28 year old Melissa Huckaby, allegedly molested, and possibly raped with a foreign object, little Sandra. For this to be done by a woman, let alone a mother, is disturbing. This horrible act was done in a church, the same church where Melissa Huckaby taught Sunday School. Poor Sandra was stuffed into a suitcase, and then dumped only a few miles from her home in a shallow pond.

Then Melissa Huckaby makes a report to the police that her suitcase was stolen and sometime between her police report and her arrest she was hospitalized for attempting suicide. Melissa Huckaby swallowed 3 X-acto knife blades. Even her method of suicide is unusual. The majority of suicides by both men and women are by firearm, but the second most common method for women is poisoning. To inflict such pain upon yourself by swallowing razor blades, to me, denotes self-loathing and possibly severe guilt.

Only one in 10 sex crimes are committed by women, and now the Tracy police are having to investigate whether other children have been victims of Melissa Huckaby. As a trusted adult, a mother and a Sunday School teacher, she is the perfect front for a pedophile. What about her own daughter?

As a woman, and mother myself, I want to automatically label Melissa Huckaby as sick instead of evil. She must be suffering from mental illness. And this is no excuse for her behavior, please don't read me wrong. I just want a tangible explanation to hold onto when disturbing images of this case flicker through my head.

Something went tragically wrong with Melissa Huckaby, from when the below picture was taken, to the image of her mug shot.

Her daughter is 5 years old so we can't blame the hormones that cause postpartum psychosis. Unless there was another pregnancy or abortion not reported to the media. I used to work in an emergency psychiatric hospital in Stanislaus County, here in California. Less than an hour from the city of Tracy where both Sandra Cantu and her murderer lived so dangerously close to each other. The most frightening patient I ever encountered was a woman suffering from postpartum psychosis. Her infant daughter was only 3 weeks old and she had quickly deteriorated after coming home with her newborn. This woman was a blond, blue-eyed, third grade teacher. This patient had to be very closely monitored because the breast pump she used to keep herself lactating could be used by other patients to kill themselves. Lucky me, I got that task.

This was before I had kids of my own, so seeing an electric breast pump in action was a rather alarming experience in itself. But her frequent lapses in lucidity, and threats of violence to herself, and others, put all the staff on edge. We finally put her in a safe room to view her on a monitor with audio. She was free to move around this room and there was no way for her to harm herself or others, but we had to watch her regardless, and we were all so gentle with her.

This seemingly "normal" looking woman was ranting on and on, ".............Daddy, I am not your little girl anymore,.... now there is another little girl to take my place, ....don't you love me, what can I do to make you love me?.......". I finally could no longer handle it and asked my nurse supervisor if I could turn off the sound and just watch the monitor. My nurse looked at me and said, "Please do, she is scaring me to death.". Of all the violent and psychotic male and female patients I met she was the most disturbing.

Less than a week later the skilled nurses and physicians had convinced this woman to give up breastfeeding and take the medication she needed to get better. Within 10 days, she was a completely different woman. Bright-eyed, coherent, and ready to mother with help from her family. Thankfully her story had a happy ending.

What diagnosis, what treatment for Melissa Huckaby, could have helped Sandra Cantu still be alive? I am personally convinced there is a psychiatric diagnosis here to be had, which I don't think excuses her from criminal prosecution. The alleged location of the molest and murder, in a church, just smacks of delusional thinking. Often with the mentally ill, the goodness and beauty of spiritual rituals becomes way too ritualistic. The powers of good and evil become very black and white, the moral, historical teachings in the bible are too tempting for somebody suffering from delusions and magical thinking. All that sin, good, evil, power, forgiveness and damnation it's just too much for somebody barely holding on to reality.

I want to clarify I am not building a defense for this child murderer, I am just merely speculating on what would drive a woman to molest and kill a little girl. Is it highly possible that Melissa Huckaby herself is a victim of sexual abuse? It's not an uncommon notion that children who were sexually abused, turn into adults who sexually abuse children. Maybe she was acting out some horrible deed from her past, maybe that happened to her in a church as well.

This case continues to produce more questions than answers. That is what makes this story frightening to every parent and child that hears it. Melissa Huckaby was the perfectly disguised monster. Wasn't there anyone out there that had a glimpse behind the mask? Anyone besides a little girl named Sandra.


Pop Champagne said...

Wow. This is a really sad story. I don't understand how someone can turn from their normal cheerful self to a killer like that. Sigh.

Charlotte said...

I am scared to know.

Monkey Girl said...

Honestly, I'm still waiting to hear that she didn't do it alone, because it just doesn't make sense.

My girlfriends and I are still wondering why THIS case has made such national news, when hundreds of girls, children go missing everyday.

I still don't know what to make of it.
It's sad, sick and heartwrenching.

Charlotte said...

That's a good point, because this case did make headlines before we knew it was a female abductor which definitely puts it in the spotlight.