In his obituary, Michael Haight was remembered as a man who “lived a life of service.” He was especially praised as a devoted father who “made it a point to spend quality time with each and every one of his children.”
Ranging in age from 4 to 17, those children aren’t listed among Haight’s survivors. Neither is their mother, Tausha Haight. That’s because her husband shot her and their five children to death in their Utah home on Jan. 4. He also killed Gail Earl, his mother-in-law, before he died by suicide.
Polishing the memory of a man who slaughtered his family is indicative of how cavalierly this nation treats domestic violence and its victims.
Not surprisingly, the obit that appeared in The Spectrum, a Utah newspaper, and on a mortuary’s memorial page, went viral on social media. Condemnation and angry comments were so potent, the newspaper removed the obituary. The mortuary even took the unusual step of making pages where mourners can leave remembrances accessible only by password.
“Memories of Michael are important tributes that will last forever,” it said on the locked site. “These should come from real people, not anonymous posts.”
Also not surprising: The offensive obit received more national attention than the initial mass shooting two weeks ago. This is the maddening and familiar pattern for how domestic violence murders are covered. Had the Haight family been killed anywhere else — a theater, a supermarket, or a house of worship — their deaths would have garnered headlines and conversations about gun violence for days, if not weeks.
Instead, because they died in their home, the place where they should have felt safest, it was given scant attention outside of Utah. And the same can be said of Athalia A. Crayton and her three children, who were killed on Jan. 7 in their High Point, N.C., home by her husband. On the same day, Cindy Clouse and her two daughters were shot to death in their Lee Township, Mich., home by her boyfriend, who was also the children’s father. In both cases, the men died by suicide.
After such horrific murders, police often say the community is not in danger. That’s a convenient lie. All the right-wing talking points about surges in crime (even when they’re not based in fact) generally poke at white fears of nefarious Black and brown strangers terrorizing their homes and communities.
What’s ignored is that people are more likely to be killed not by an unrecognizable assailant but by someone they know. This is especially true for women worldwide, according to a 2021 United Nations study: “In 58 percent of all killings perpetrated by intimate partners or other family members, the victim was a woman or girl.”
In a nation with too many mass shootings, there’s no place more dangerous for women than their homes. Solutions to domestic violence are rarely discussed in legislative circles, and the fact that these killings have been so normalized is misogyny, plain and simple.
I also believe that misogyny was at play in Haight’s appalling obituary. Of course, it’s common to lionize the dead as the kindest people, the most dedicated friends, the ones whose presence lit up every room they entered. But the gushing remembrance of Haight was a hagiography for a murderer.
It does not matter that he was an Eagle Scout or how much he loved the people he met in Brazil during his mission for the Mormon church. It does not matter if he “enjoyed making memories with the family.” Haight killed them all two weeks after his wife filed for divorce.
And don’t blame his wife’s actions for causing this family tragedy, or call it “a crime of passion.” A man who loves his family does not kill them. He does not treat them like possessions he is allowed to destroy if they don’t obey him or have the audacity to imagine a life away from him.
In 2006, CNN talk show host Larry King interviewed Sharon Rocha, mother of Laci Peterson, who was pregnant when she was killed by her husband, Scott Peterson, in 2002. “There is no reason to murder our children,” she told King. “No reason for our daughters to be murdered.”
Yet women and often their children continue to be killed in their homes at alarming rates. Public conversations about the prevalence of guns in domestic violence deaths — and especially how there are men socialized to see violence as the only answer to any perceived problem — are generally avoided when they’re most needed.
With his final act, Haight lost the privilege of reverence in death. But an obituary, as callous as it was glowing, still tried to sanitize the reputation of a violent, selfish man and heaped one last indignity on his wife and the “cherished” children he murdered.
Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.