Did Memphis Mother Charged with Fatally Stabbing Her 4 Children Suffer a Mental Health Breakdown?

Shanynthia Gardner, 29, was taken to a mental health facility on Tuesday after her July 1 arrest

Photo: Source: Michael Quander WREG/Facebook

The shocking killing of four Memphis children, allegedly at the hands of their mother, has generated speculation over whether possible mental health problems caused Shanynthia Gardner to snap.

The 29-year-old mother of five was arrested on July 1 and charged with slitting the throats of four of her youngest children with a butcher knife at the modest apartment complex where they lived, according to an affidavit of complaint filed in court on July 1 by a Shelby County Sheriff’s Office detective.

Her oldest child, 7, fled the house and ran to a neighbor, yelling that his mother had just stabbed his sister, according to the affidavit. He is now in protective custody, according to police.

On Tuesday after a brief court appearance via video, Gardner, who remained silent during the entire hearing, refusing to answer the judge’s questions, was moved from the Shelby County women’s jail and taken to the Memphis Mental Health Institute. She did not enter a plea.

Officials have not said why she was taken to the psychiatric hospital, which serves patients who “have a severe and persistent mental illness and are hospitalized on an emergency, involuntary basis,” according to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services website.

As Gardner awaits her next court date on July 11, investigators are trying to determine whether Gardner suffers from mental health problems, Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham said at a press conference.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

All four children died of “severe lacerations to the throat,” according to the affidavit. The victims were Tallen Gardner, 4, Sya Gardner, 3, and Sahvi Gardner, 2, and Yahzi Gardner, 6 months.

Gardner has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder associated with aggravated child abuse, four counts of first-degree murder in association with aggravated child neglect, and four more counts each of aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect or endangerment.

Her attorney has not returned calls for comment.

Troubling Signs

As authorities investigate what caused Gardner to allegedly murder her children, friends and community members say they believe mental health problems, including the possibility of post partum depression, plagued the young mother.

But no one knew just how serious her issues were.

“Nothing rang a bell that something was seriously wrong,” Gardner’s longtime friend, Brandon King, told WMC Action News 5 in Memphis.

Gardner, who was a “friendly, caring person” and a good mother, he told the station. “We knew she loved those babies.”

Since King had never seen Gardner become violent, news of her alleged crime “was just a big shock,” he said. Speculating, he added, “There was just a mental breakdown. I don’t know where it came from.”

James Johnson, another friend of Gardner’s, told the station, “It hurts that this happened, because I know that’s not the person that she is.”

“Something had to happen for her to do her kids like that. She wasn’t in her right mind,” he speculated.

Still, there may have been signs that something was wrong.

Gardner went missing on March 19, just days after telling loved ones that she felt some someone was trying to hurt her and her family, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

She also took her kids out of school in March 2015 before driving them to Corinth, Mississippi, where, her husband Martin Gardner told police, she knew no one, according to the AP report.

The Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba Gray, Jr. ,of the New Sardis Baptist Church in Memphis, organized a prayer vigil at the apartment complex where the killings took place and is trying to raise community awareness about mental health.

“There was nothing we could do for those four children, but their memory should have us take action in the future to make that less likely to happen again,” Gray tells PEOPLE. “That means seeing erratic behavior and caring enough to intervene and confront and to make referrals and to engage other family members,.”.

Gray, who spoke to members of Gardner’s family, says, “She was overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for five babies and other things and she melted down. But she showed some symptoms long before she melted down that we believe the community should be aware of.”

After the slayings, he noted that Sheriff Oldham pointed out that access to mental health services must become a community priority.

“Heretofore it has not been seen as a real priority,” says Gray. “But we are seeing these kinds of tragedies more and more and it goes back to mental health.

He adds, “After this happened, I said, ‘God, what good can come out of this?’ It may well be the increase of access to mental health care for this community.”

Related Articles