SEATTLE—Mike Mitchell was sitting in his Bellingham, Washington, bedroom with close friend and housemate Michele Boudreau Deegan on a Thursday last month when they broached the subject of suicide.
It had become an occasional discussion topic for the pair, as Boudreau Deegan, a 55-year-old mental health therapist who owned the house the two of them shared, suffered from intense bouts of depression. On that night, Mitchell said, Boudreau Deegan had made it clear she was upset over a recent court decision involving custody of her twin 7-year-old daughters and their father.
“You know your girls would never be better off without you,” Mitchell recalled telling her. “Even if worst comes to worst and he gets full custody, they’re still not going to be better without you.”
According to Mitchell, Boudreau Deegan responded: “Oh, I would never leave my girls.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741
Two days later, after Mitchell hadn’t seen the family in 24 hours, he walked up the two flights of stairs to Boudreau Deegan’s bedroom. He opened her door, still adorned with the crumpled blue paper hearts her daughters had made for her, and found her and her twins dead.
“My mind just went a billion different places,” he told The Daily Beast recently. “I pretty much just lost it for a while. I ran back downstairs because I knew that they were all gone.”
Mitchell, 63, would later learn from police that they believed that on the previous night Boudreau Deegan sedated her daughters and then used a handgun to shoot both of them, before turning it on herself.
Conversations with Boudreau Deegan’s friends and law enforcement paint a picture of a woman facing myriad demons in the form of mental health challenges, financial difficulties that involved filing for bankruptcy, and a multiyear separation and custody battle some say she viewed as an out-and-out fight for her children’s future.
“I know that Michele couldn’t let go,” said Roxanna Valdovinos, 47, who had worked with Boudreau Deegan on and off for several years beginning in 2003, and then later started seeing her for her own therapy.
“You know at some point in a divorce and if he gets another partner and everything and you don’t really agree with his parenting, you have to kind of let it go and let your kids run a certain amount of risk, and have faith in God or fate or something that things will turn out OK or that you’ll be there to help if they don’t,” said Valdovinos.
“I think she lost that. She lost that belief that things were going to be OK in the end, that he was a good enough parent.”
Several days after the incident, the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office released a statement saying that Boudreau Deegan was the only suspect in the girls’ deaths, and that investigators determined she killed herself. The office cited evidence at the scene, autopsy results, and the fact that the children were given a large amount of sedatives before being killed.
Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo told The Daily Beast that detectives were investigating what factors may have motivated such acts. A recent court decision involving joint custody appeared to be a factor, while financial issues could have also played a role, he said.
But with the horrific crime still hanging over this small Pacific Northwest city about an hour-and-a-half north of Seattle, Sheriff Elfo added, “I don’t know what could be a factor to kill your two 7-year-old girls, regardless of what factors are going on in your life.”
This is not the first time a case like this has rocked the area. In 2012, Josh Powell killed his two young sons and himself when he set his house in Pierce County, Washington, on fire. He had been in a custody fight with the parents of his late wife, whom he was also suspected of killing, according to reporting from the Associated Press.
Each night, Mitchell said, he remembered Boudreau Deegan telling stories to her daughters—one of whom, according to court records, had special needs—and singing to them as they fell asleep. Their bedroom walls were filled with butterflies and fairies, and words like “Peace” and “Love” spelled out with flowers, and when the lights were turned off a machine projected stars across their ceiling.
“She lived for her two little girls,” said Mitchell, who had been with the family for just over a year. “Everything was about those little girls. She was determined that their life was going to be better than hers.”
But in the months leading up to their deaths, Mitchell said, he noticed Boudreau Deegan wasn’t taking care of herself. He recalled her not getting to sleep until the early hours of the morning, and then, because of her chronic lower back pain, that she would spend long stretches during the day laying in bed. She often only ate one meal a day, which was sometimes ice cream.
Boudreau Deegan was seeing her own therapist, according to Mitchell. But for a number of reasons, including the fact that Boudreau Deegan’s insurance didn’t cover the sessions, they didn’t meet often.
Deb Slater, a spokesperson for the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, said in an email that deputies had responded once in the last year to Boudreau Deegan’s home. On July 11, 2020, they conducted a welfare check, following a request by her husband. “The check did not necessitate a report,” Slated said. “The case was closed.”
Boudreau Deegan had an active mental health counselor license, according to the Washington State Department of Health. On her psychotherapy Facebook page, she described herself as working from “an empowerment model.”
On the evening of the tragedy, she posted an article titled, “Narcissistic Parents Are Literally Incapable of Loving Their Children.”
Members of Boudreau Deegan’s family, including her estranged husband and his own immediate relatives, all declined or did not respond to requests for comment. But on Nov. 14, he posted on his Facebook page, “This is truly a story rooted in mental illness and what a serious disease it can be. Michele was a loving mother and wife, and our family enjoyed years of beautiful love before mental illness began to creep into our lives.”
Carmen Cabrera-Fuentes, 55, said she dated Boudreau Deegan for almost a year beginning in August 2017 and lived with her for several months. She remembered having some doubts about Boudreau Deegan’s parenting, including her ability to be present for the twins.
“But never did I think that she would harm the girls,” she told The Daily Beast. “That’s the sad part. I loved Katie and Mairy just like they were my kids.”
Cabrera-Fuentes said she moved out in October 2018 following a fight with Boudreau Deegan, who was upset she had bought the twins donuts. She said that at the time of Boudreau Deegan’s death, the therapist owed her a substantial amount of money.
Another patient of Boudreau Deegan’s, who requested anonymity because she has endured domestic violence, said she saw her for a year about a decade ago and then continued to talk with her as a friend. She was flabbergasted when she heard what had happened.
“I think if she was thinking clearly, she would have never have done something like this,” the former patient told The Daily Beast. “She is not a monster. That’s the first thing I would say. There’s nothing about Michele that was a monster or that you would think that she was, like, borderline personality disorder.”
In March, court documents show, Boudreau Deegan filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. She estimated that she owed between one and 49 creditors, and that her debts were primarily consumer debts.
But it wasn’t until last month that her outlook appears to have taken an extreme hit.
She and her husband had been involved in a legal separation case for about four years. According to court records, on Oct. 20 a parenting plan was put in place that involved the children living with each parent on alternating days of the week. Boudreau Deegan was also granted decision-making about the girls’ education and health care, while the father would be given access to all medical and education information.
Mitchell said he received a text message after that decision from Boudreau Deegan: “Just lost everything.”
Three days later, police believe, Boudreau Deegan killed her children and herself, an action they said appeared to have been planned over the course of several days.
It’s unclear exactly why she was so distraught about a shared custody situation. But, Mitchell recalled, it appeared as if “she had completely catastrophized their entire life.”
“She had a fairytale dreamland on one side and a complete catastrophe on the other,” he said. “And it was one or the other. Black or white.”
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