Police describe what led to mother, 2 young sons freezing to death in Pontiac woods

10-year-old daughter woke up, reported family’s death to nearby resident

PONTIAC, Mich.Oakland County officials have provided more details and a timeline of the events that led up to a mother and her two young sons freezing to death in a Pontiac wooded area.

Mental health crisis

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said family members recently noticed that Monica Cannady, 35, of Pontiac, was struggling with mental health. Her mother noticed a change over the past three weeks, but wasn’t sure what had caused it, according to authorities.

On Friday, Cannady’s mother noticed that her grandchildren were cold. Family members offered to help Cannady, but she refused, Bouchard said.

“This was a mental health crisis,” Bouchard said. “The woman, the mom, was having a mental health crisis. She believed someone was trying to kill her and that everybody was in on it, (that) it was a conspiracy, so, including the police, were in on this, trying to kill her.

“The family was trying to get her help, trying to get her committed and get some help, and she refused and fled.”

Reports of woman, children underdressed in cold

Police said Cannady left her apartment Friday with her three children -- Kyle Milton, 9; Malik Milton, 3; and a 10-year-old daughter.

Between Friday and Sunday, Oakland County deputies received multiple calls about a woman and children wandering the streets without the appropriate clothing for the cold weather, Bouchard said.

“From our side, we were not called about a person or kids in crisis,” Bouchard said. “We would get an occasional call, ‘Hey, there’s somebody in the area that doesn’t look like they’re appropriately dressed.’ Deputies would go there and look, and they weren’t there.”

Police believe the family was wandering out in the cold for parts of Friday, all of Saturday, and parts of Sunday.

“We later learned from the surviving daughter that (the mother) had told her kids anytime anybody approached, to run,” Bouchard said.

Daughter reports deaths

Deputies were called at 3:10 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 15) to the 200 block of Branch Street after Cannady’s daughter told someone her family had died, according to authorities.

“(Deputies) were told that a 10-year-old girl knocked on a door and said that her family was dead in a field,” Bouchard said.

Officials searched the vacant fields in the area of Lakeside housing. They found Cannady and her two sons dead in a field, about a mile away from their apartment, Bouchard said.

An autopsy confirmed the woman and her sons died from hypothermia. Their deaths have been ruled accidental.

“I would say accidental/preventable,” Bouchard said. “If we have more conversations -- sometimes tough conversations that it takes strength to ask for help. It’s not weakness. That it’s encouraged, and we have more available mental health services to everybody, I think it’ll go a long way.”

10-year-old girl in hospital

The 10-year-old girl survived and is in the hospital with hypothermia-type symptoms, police said.

She is considered stable and “appears to be recovering well,” according to Bouchard.

The girl told police that her family had gone to the field, and her mother told the children to lie down and sleep. When the girl woke up, her mother and brothers wouldn’t respond, officials said.

“This tragedy was fundamentally evidentiary of the breakdown of our mental health system in America,” Bouchard said. “We don’t give our mental health providers and systems enough support and have enough resources at their fingertips.”

Child Protective Services is involved in the case. Upon being discharged from the hospital, she will be turned over to family members.

Detectives are still investigating and interviewing family members to learn more information.

Bouchard said the children’s father was murdered in November 2021.

“When you’re a mom with three kids and the father of your kids has been murdered and you’ve got things going on, there needs to be more integration of those (mental health) services,” Bouchard said.

You can watch Bouchard’s full briefing below.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.