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Utah woman admits killing 6 babies inside home, authorities say

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This photo provided by the Utah County jail shows Megan Huntsman, who was booked into the Utah County jail on suspicion of killing six of her newborn children over the past decade. Seven dead babies were found in a garage at a Pleasant Grove home where Huntsman lived up until 2011. (AP/Utah County Jail)

Authorities say a Utah woman accused of killing six babies that she gave birth to over 10 years told investigators Monday that she either strangled or suffocated the children immediately after they were born and then put them inside boxes in her garage.

According to a probable cause statement released by police Monday, Megan Huntsman, 39, said that between 1996 and 2006, she gave birth to at least seven babies at her home and that all but one of them were born alive. The statement said each baby was wrapped in either a towel or a shirt, and placed in a plastic bag. 

Police arrested Huntsman Sunday after discovering the seven dead babies at the home in Provo.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that police were called to the house Saturday by Huntsman's ex-husband, who had discovered the body of a newborn infant who appeared to be at full term. Police obtained a search warrant for the house and discovered the bodies of six more babies packed in boxes in the garage.

Police Capt. Michael Roberts told the paper that investigators are still working on DNA tests, but Huntsman's ex-husband, identified by family and neighbors as Darren West, is believed to be the father of all seven children. The Associated Press reported that West discovered the bodies while cleaning out the garage after recently getting out of prison. Authorities do not believe West was aware of the killings and is not a person of interest at this time.

Roberts said police believe West and Huntsman were together when the babies were born.

"We don't believe he had any knowledge of the situation," Roberts told The Associated Press

Asked how the man could not have known about the situation, Roberts replied, "That's the million-dollar question. Amazing."

Roberts declined to comment on a motive and what Huntsman said during an interview with investigators. He said it wasn't clear if she has an attorney. Huntsman was booked Sunday into the Utah County Jail on six counts of murder. It was not immediately clear why she was charged with six counts of murder and not seven. 

On Monday morning, State Judge Steven Hansen set bail at $1 million for each child when Huntsman appeared via video in a Utah courtroom.

The gruesome case has raised a series of questions about how the killings occurred despite Huntsman carrying out what neighbors seemed like a normal existence. Police declined to comment on a motive and what Huntsman said during an interview with investigators.

Huntsman also has three daughters -- one teenager and two young adults -- who lived at the house.

Neighbors in the middle-class neighborhood of mostly older homes 35 miles south of Salt Lake City say they were shocked by the accusations and perplexed that the woman's older children still living in the home didn't know their mother was pregnant or notice anything suspicious.

Several police cars blocked the entrance to the house Sunday evening as officers milled about with the belongings from the garage strewn across the front lawn.

Late Sunday, West's family issued a statement saying they were in a "state of shock and confusion."

"We are mourning this tragic loss of life and we are trying to stay strong and help each other through this awful event," the statement said before asking for privacy.

West pleaded guilty in federal court in 2005 to two counts of possessing chemicals intended to be used in manufacturing methamphetamine, court records show. In August 2006, he was sentenced to nine years in prison, but appealed the term three times. He maintained his innocence and said he never had any intention to manufacture meth. It's unclear when he was released.

West's sister Sarah Wright wrote to federal district court in 2006, saying West is a good father to his three daughters. She said he worked at an excavation company for 11 years and is an avid outdoorsman who likes to fish and camp.

"Darren is such an awesome dad," she wrote.

Neighbors told the AP they were shocked and horrified by the accusations of what went on inside the home. None of them even knew Huntsman was pregnant in recent years.

The family members seemed like nice people and good neighbors, said Aaron and Kathie Hawker, who live next door.

Huntsman moved out several years ago, leaving her three daughters to live alone, the Hawkers said. They weren't sure where Huntsman has since been living.

Years ago, Huntsman baby-sat the Hawker grandchildren and they were friendly with each other.

"It makes us so sad, we want to cry," Kathie Hawker said. "We enjoyed having them as a neighbor. This has just blown us away."

Aaron Hawker said he talked with West on Saturday morning. He told Hawker he was cleaning out the mess in the garage.

"Two hours later, suddenly we had all these policemen here," Aaron Hawker said.

Fred Newman, a neighbor whose cousin is the husband's mother, said he's perplexed how the three oldest daughters living there didn't know about what police say was going on. He said the girls didn't always park their cars in the garage, but did sometimes in the cold winter months.

"What's shocking is the three older ones living there and not noticing that their mother was pregnant," Newman said.

He said he has used his snow-blower to clean off the driveway of the home and the young women would thank him.

The girls were normal youngsters, coming and going often, neighbor Vickie Nelson said.

"It's shocking and kind of morbid and strange," Nelson said as he looked across the street at the garage from her from lawn.

Roberts said the case has been "emotionally draining" and upsetting to investigators. He was at the home when the bodies were discovered.

"My personal reaction? Just shocked. Couldn't believe it. The other officers felt the same," the 19-year police veteran said.

"They got more and more shocked each box they opened," Roberts said.

Click for more from The Salt Lake Tribune

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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