Dads Against the Divorce Industry

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Mother charged with slitting throat of 6-month-old daughter

Curt Brown
Star Tribune
Published 08/06/2003

Mine Ener was worried. She was having trouble feeding her 6-month-old daughter, and she knew that the baby -- who had Down syndrome -- might have to go back on a feeding tube.

For several days, the new mother was concerned that she might even harm her baby, Raya Donagi.

On Monday morning, she told police that she wanted to ease her daughter's suffering. So Ener laid the girl on a bathroom floor, pressed a kitchen knife against her throat and cut her twice, according to a second-degree murder charge filed Tuesday in Ramsey County. She told paramedics who arrived Monday: "I killed my baby with a knife."

Ener, a college professor who was in St. Paul to visit, told police that she had been taking antidepressants for postpartum depression and had considered suicide.

Mine A. Ener
Mine A. Ener
St. Paul Police

As she awaits her first court appearance, she is being held in the county jail in lieu of $500,000 bail, and child advocates and law enforcement authorities are struggling to understand her actions.

"She had the resources to deal with the issues she had in her life, financially and, more importantly, with a family that seemed to support her in every sense," Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said.

Ener, 38, an associate history professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia, was back in her hometown visiting her mother. She grew up in St. Paul and attended St. Paul Central High School and Macalester College in the 1980s.

Raya died a month after a 14-month-old boy drowned when his mother threw him and his twin brother off the Wabasha Street Bridge. Gaertner said it's too soon to say whether a grand jury will be convened to consider first-degree murder charges in the two cases.

"But cases like these make you wonder whether we should change the law to make intentionally killing a very young person automatic first-degree with enhanced penalties," she said.

According to the criminal complaint, Ener had been in St. Paul for about a week. She was staying in her childhood home on a visit to her mother in the Desnoyer Park neighborhood on the city's western edge. She told police Raya's feeding tube had recently been removed, but bottle feeding and breast feeding were difficult.

"She stated the child hated the feeding tube so she felt that she should kill the child," the complaint says. "She felt that the situation was hopeless and she did not want the child to go through life suffering."

St. Paul police Sgt. Bruce Wynkoop, who interviewed Ener on Monday, said she told him she had spoken with a mental health counselor twice after she arrived in St. Paul.

"In the two or three days before, she said she had worried she might do some harm to the child, but she kept it to herself," he said. "When the opportunity arose, she took it."

Family members were unavailable for comment, including Ener's husband and Raya's father, Ron Donagi, a math professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

"She had a loving, caring, supportive family who said they would help take care of the child," Wynkoop said. "She said her husband and family weren't as pessimistic about the child's quality of life as she was."

Wynkoop said Ener was lucid and calm as she described what happened and acknowledged that what she did was wrong.

"She was not coldhearted at all, it was almost like: 'I had to do this, it's too bad I'm here and my baby had to go through this,' " he said.

Help available

Kathleen Forney, who heads the Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota, said it's a shock when parents first hear the diagnosis of Down syndrome. But support groups are available in Minnesota and across the country.

"This is a tragic, tragic story," she said. "This is a mother who is suffering from incredible postpartum depression that may have been compounded by having a Down syndrome child. It makes me weep that somebody loses that much touch with themselves. There are resources we have available, but the person has to reach out for them."

David Tolleson, the executive director of the National Down Syndrome Congress in Atlanta, said there are governmental, religious and adoption options and myriad places for help.

"Raising children with disabilities can be very stressful those first few months with no sleep and the baby crying, yet millions of parents do it every year and don't take this sort of action," Tolleson said.

Ed Taylor, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota's School of Social Work, said there is a huge chasm between the so-called baby blues and postpartum depression. The former, he said, is a hormonal imbalance that corrects itself within the first few months after childbirth.

"Postpartum depression is a major mood disorder that usually results in neglect of a baby, not changing a diaper and things like that," he said. "Only in the most unusual and severe cases do you have a full-blown episode like this, and I don't know a single case that has been successfully defended using postpartum depression as a mental-illness defense."

Ann Blake-Tracy, the executive director of the International Coalition of Drug Awareness, said there are many cases of people taking antidepressants who react with horrifying violent outbursts.

Wynkoop, the police investigator, said that he didn't recall which antidepressants Ener was taking but that the medications were taken to the jail so she could keep taking them.

"I don't think medication had anything to do with this," he said. "Thousands and thousands of women go through childbirth and get depressed afterwards, but depression isn't a reason to kill your child. She said she didn't want the child to suffer."

A scholar

At St. Paul Central, Ener was a cheerleader, badminton player and a popular student who took gifted-and-talented classes in the early 1980s.

"She was very bright and seemed as normal to me as any teenager," said retired humanities teacher Lorraine Potuzak.

Ener received a doctorate in history from the University of Michigan, where she continued to offer herself to history students as a mentor for their research projects. She began working at Villanova in 1996 and received a tenured position in 2002 with a speciality in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.

"We're deeply saddened by this whole thing and feel she is a very gifted professor who was respected by her students, her fellow faculty, alumni and staff," Villanova spokeswoman Barbara Clement said. "She was always very professional."

Curt Brown is at curt.brown@startribune.com.



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