Looking at the photos of these precious faces is heart breaking. Four beautiful children: six-month old Yahzi; Sya, 3; Sahvi, 2; and 4-year-old Tallen are gone. One big brother, at 7-year-old Dallen, finds himself with no one left to look after.
This is a tragedy. Not just because their lives ended, but because they were ended at the hands of the person who the universe chose to look after them, their mother.
On July 1st, 2016, something in Shanynthia Gardner broke.
The 29-year old suburban wife and mother, known to her friends as “Yari” came unglued. The resulting horror broke many hearts in the already war-torn city of Memphis, Tn-a city where homicide is common, poverty is prevalent and mental health services are few and declining.
According to the arrest affidavit, Shanynthia “Yari” Gardner used a butcher knife to cut the throats of her four children. Three girls; six months to 3 years old were killed. Her eldest son, Dallen, 7, was seen by witnesses fleeing the home, saying “his mother stabbed his sister.” Shanynthia then attempted to commit suicide.
Police were called to the scene at 12:28 pm, where “four were found deceased upon Deputies’ arrival,” read the affidavit.
Her children had no way of knowing they wouldn’t live to see fireworks on the Fourth of July. They had no way of knowing that this Friday would be different from any other Friday.
The affidavit claims Shanynthia spoke to her husband, Martin Gardner at 12:50 pm and admitted to killing their children.
Just six-month after having a baby, Shanynthia was in a high-risk for postpartum depression. Associate professor of developmental-behavior pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine, Carol Weitzman says “the effects of maternal depression on children are very profound“.
Though Shanynthia’s family reports she had not officially been diagnosed with a mental illness; police reports show Shanynthia went missing in March of 2015. Her husband, Martin Gardner, filed a missing person report after Shanynthia did not return home after a run. Martin told police Shanynthia said she was “feeling stressed at work” and was experiencing what may have been paranoia. Her husband reported to police that Shanynthia told him “someone was trying to harm me and my family.”
We’re Not Superwomen
According to the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry, killing of children by a parent is frequently accompanied by depression or psychosis.
Black women are more vulnerable to chronic psychological stressors that can lead to mental and physical illness. However, studies report that mental illness affects black at similar rates as other groups.
According to the American Psychological Association, mental and physical health problems resulting from chronic stress, due to caregiver roles, family demands, poverty, racism and what the report describes as the Superwoman Schema (SWS) affect black women at a higher rate.
It’s hard for anyone who has never battled mental illness to understand just how all-encompassing and devastating it can be. It is nearly impossible for most to understand what could lead a parent… a mother…a black mother to kill her child, let alone several children.
The motive in this case is still unclear. But specific motives identified in similar cases in a 2005 study by psychologist by Dr. Phillip Resnick, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Forensic Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, were:
- Altruism: (ex. mother is planning suicide but does not want to leave her children without their mother)
- Acute psychosis (hearing voices/no comprehensible motive)
- Accidental (resulting from maltreatment/neglect)
- Unwanted Child
- Spouse Revenge
Its heartbreaking to imagine the last moments of life for the Gardner children. It’s a struggle to imagine the pain Marcus Gardner has to bear with the loss of his 4 children.
Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham spoke to reporters Friday, July 1, 2016 about the deaths of the 4 Gardner children. “This is an egregious act of evil that has shocked us to our core.”
Oldham’s comments were met with backlash from journalists and community leaders who say he showed insensitivity to the family and demonized a woman who was in a mental health crisis.
If nothing else, this case should change our conversation with regard to mental health and the black community. Perhaps it will make us better advocates for ourselves and for those who are struggling.
Mental health professional, Lee Garner says crisis intervention could have possibly changed how this story ended. Garner says action is needed to provide resources to people who need help and families who need support.