DUXBURY — Around the labor and delivery ward at Massachusetts General Hospital, Lindsay Clancy was known as the consummate caregiver.
Colleagues looked forward to the occasions they worked alongside her, citing her attention to detail. New mothers she’d deftly guided through difficult pregnancies wondered whether they could request her for future deliveries. A mom herself, the 32-year-old delivery nurse was the go-to source for friends with questions on child-rearing, a woman whose own affinity for motherhood was such that she’d once joked of having “a baseball team” worth of children.
“She felt [motherhood] was the most rewarding and fulfilling thing life has to offer,” said a friend of more than two decades in a letter filed in a Plymouth court. The Globe is not naming the friend at her request.
Today, the woman who devoted herself to helping guide new life into the world stands accused of taking it, charged with strangling her three young children with exercise bands inside the family’s Duxbury home before cutting her wrists and neck and jumping from a second-story window in an apparent suicide attempt. Her daughter Cora, 5, and son, Dawson, 3, were pronounced dead later that night. Her infant son, Callan, died three days later at Boston Children’s Hospital. Clancy remains in a Boston hospital, paralyzed from the waist down.
In the three weeks since the killings shook the foundation of this quaint South Shore community, two starkly different portraits have emerged: Prosecutors have aggressively sought to portray Clancy as a plotting killer who painstakingly planned the murder of her three children, while those who know her have described her as a devoted mother dogged in her pursuit of treatment for the mental health issues that had plagued her following the birth of her third child last spring.
In a case that has raised a variety of complex issues, these dueling portraits now are at the center of a criminal case that could test how postpartum mental health is understood and treated, both in a health care setting and in the state’s criminal justice system. Wrangling over Clancy’s mental state following the birth of her third child has already begun, with prosecutors alleging psychiatrists in Rhode Island concluded in December that Clancy wasn’t suffering from postpartum depression. Her defense has countered that doctors overmedicated her after she sought mental health treatment.
Much of the prosecution’s case seems to center on Clancy’s alleged actions in the hours leading up to the killings and the method she allegedly used to attack the children. In strangling her daughter and two sons, prosecutors allege, she needed up to six minutes to carry out each attack and could have stopped herself at any point and rendered aid.
Prosecutors have also seized upon evidence that Clancy used her phone to calculate how long it would take her husband to drive to a restaurant in Plymouth for a takeout dinner order — a break from their routine of ordering from restaurants closer to home — as evidence that Clancy sought to keep her husband out of the house as long as possible in order to “make sure she would have enough time to strangle each child” before he returned.
In court last week, Plymouth assistant district attorney Jennifer L. Sprague framed the case as the very definition of first-degree murder, a charge that would send Clancy to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She killed her children, Sprague said, with “deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity and cruelty.”
But this narrative has been forcefully countered by Clancy’s attorney, as well as those who have known and worked with her over the course of the last three decades.
Even before prosecutors offered their version of events, Kevin Reddington, a high-profile Brockton attorney representing Clancy, publicly described the mother’s postpartum mental state and her struggles with the prescription medications used to treat it.
In more than a dozen letters of support, meanwhile, friends and colleagues have described her as the picture of maternal devotion. Her husband, too, has also pleaded for understanding; in an emotional public statement last month, Patrick Clancy said he’d forgiven his wife and urged the public to do the same.
The court case has offered an inside look into Clancy’s pursuit of mental health treatment, a process normally shielded from public view. Going back to at least September, court records show, Clancy reported experiencing anxiety as she prepared to return to work following Callan’s birth. In search of relief, she visited psychiatrists, filled prescriptions for 13 psychiatric medications, and underwent an evaluation at Women & Infants’ Hospital in Providence. On New Year’s Day, she checked herself into McLean Hospital for mental health treatment in Belmont.
Aside from her husband, Clancy’s immediate family has so far declined to speak publicly. Friends contacted by the Globe have declined to comment, as well, citing a desire not to participate in news coverage of the family’s tragedy.
But what has emerged in court records is a portrait of a woman whose love of children started early, with baby-sitting gigs and aspirations for a sizable family of her own.
At Lyman Hall High School, in an affluent Connecticut suburb, she played Powder Puff football and was part of the National Honor Society. After graduation, she attended Quinnipiac University, where she regularly made the Dean’s List and graduated in 2012. Two years later, she’d graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing in Boston.
She long spoke of wanting a large family, friends said, and when she married Patrick Clancy — a handsome Salve Regina University graduate who worked in computer software — in December 2016 in Southington, Conn., it came as little surprise that the couple soon set about growing their family.
The couple’s first child, Cora, was born in 2017. Dawson arrived two years later.
Last May, the couple welcomed a third child, Callan.
At home, friends said, Clancy filled the walls with family photos and meticulously decorated the children’s bedrooms. She was known to leave social events early in order to get back to her children. And while it is common for parents to let their kids cry as part of sleep training, one friend said, Clancy couldn’t bear the thought of her children feeling scared or alone.
“There wasn’t anything she loved more than her children,” said Grace McNulty, a longtime friend and colleague, in a recent letter Reddington submitted to the court.
Clancy’s Facebook page was an ode to her growing family; alongside various photos of her smiling kids were updates about motherhood.
Though she’d struggled at times after her first two pregnancies — prompting her to reach out to a psychiatrist for help with postpartum depression — the aftermath of her third birth, she wrote in July, had gone much more smoothly.
“This time I’ve stayed so dialed in to my routine of exercise, nutrition, personal development, and mindset,” she wrote. “It has made all the difference.”
In September, however, as her maternity leave wound to a close and she prepared to return to work, she told her husband that she was anxious about the coming change, court records show.
A month later, prosecutors allege, in a diary entry authorities pulled from her phone, she spoke of her conflicted feelings regarding a changing family dynamic.
“I think I sort of resent my children because they prevent me from treating Cal like my first baby,” Clancy wrote on Oct. 25. “And I know that’s not fair to them. I know that. I was feeling so depressed last evening when Cora and Dawson came home from school. I know it [rubs] off on them so we had a pretty rough evening.
“I want to feel love and connection with all of my kids,” she added.
Patrick Clancy, court records show, was aware of his wife’s struggles. According to a college friend, Patrick Clancy worried his wife was being over-medicated and said he didn’t believe the anxiety she experienced was overly severe. Rather, he blamed the medications, saying his wife had developed an addiction to benzodiazepines and was experiencing “the worst side effects possible,” according to the friend, Kyle Carney, who spoke to police on the night of the killings.
Reddington, the attorney, has said that over a four-month period, his client was prescribed 13 drugs — an extensive array of antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
In late December, meanwhile, shortly before Christmas, Clancy was evaluated at the Women and Infants’ Center for Women’s Behavioral Health in Providence. Doctors there seemed unconcerned, according to prosecutors, saying she was displaying none of the signs of postpartum depression.
Still, problems persisted.
On Jan. 1, after allegedly telling her husband that she’d had thoughts of harming herself and the couple’s children, she admitted herself to McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital near Boston, according to court records. She remained there for five days before being discharged.
Upon her release, prosecutors later noted, hospital personnel did not consider her a danger to herself or others.
Though Reddington has said Clancy’s condition worsened after her stay at McLean, others told investigators they saw signs of improvement.
At various times during the month of January, she remained home alone with the children without issue, according to court records. The family took various outings together — to the Museum of Science, a health club, a family restaurant. She told her husband in mid-January that she was no longer having suicidal thoughts, court records show.
Others, too, seemed to notice a change for the better; after Clancy’s parents visited Duxbury just days before the killings, her mother noted her apparent improvement in a text message to her daughter.
“Nice to see you doing better,” her mother wrote on Jan. 22.
That same night, Patrick, Lindsay, and the couple’s two older children visited friends, including Carney, in Duxbury. Though the friends had been surprised by Lindsay’s presence — they were aware of her recent mental health struggles, Carney told investigators — she seemed “fairly normal,” according to Carney, mostly keeping to herself.
January 24 was a Tuesday. Snow covered the ground outside the family’s Duxbury home. That morning, Lindsay took the couple’s daughter, Cora, to a doctor’s appointment. Later, as her husband worked from home in his basement office, she played outside with the couple’s two older children, building a snowman and sending photos to her parents and husband.
Later, Patrick would call it “one of her best days.”
At around 5 p.m., court records show, Lindsay texted Patrick to ask about dinner. She suggested ordering takeout from ThreeV in Plymouth, an eight- or nine-minute drive from their Duxbury home.
Surveillance footage showed him buying medication for his daughter at a nearby CVS store. He then drove to the restaurant and picked up the food.
Upon returning home around 6 p.m., he found the house quiet.
Upstairs, the door to the couple’s bedroom was locked. When he was able to get inside, he found blood on the floor and the window open. He discovered Lindsay on the ground outside, still conscious, with what appeared to be cuts to her wrists and throat. He called 911.
When he asked about the kids, he later told investigators, Lindsay directed him to the basement. Duxbury police officer Brian Josephine later reported that as he arrived on the scene, he passed Patrick Clancy, who was headed inside. Soon after, the officer said, he heard “extremely loud screaming” coming from the home.
According to court records, Clancy later told her husband that she heard a voice commanding her to carry out the killings before it was too late.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, questions about culpability have shifted to the legal arena, in what figures to be a daunting and complex battle.
Already, some experts have questioned the decision to pursue murder charges against Clancy. And despite prosecutors’ insistence that Clancy appeared lucid in the days and hours preceding the killings, some health experts have said that a person can appear outwardly lucid while in the throes of psychotic delusions.
The case could proceed in the courts for years, as both prosecutors and Clancy’s defense team present their claims.
But in the meantime, those who know her are left to ponder an illness that appears to have consumed the caring mother, in spite of her efforts to get help.
“I could [have] been Lindsay,” Susan Davidson, a nurse at MGH who identified herself as a former co-worker of Lindsay’s, wrote to the court. “Any one of us could have been.”
Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.