GREAT FALLS – Police say the body of a toddler recently found in the trunk of his mother’s car may have been there for months as she drove around town, evaded questions about the child’s whereabouts and was even arrested.
The mother, Summer ManyWhiteHorses, was charged Monday with deliberate homicide. Authorities say the body of her 2-year-old son, James ManyWhiteHorses, was found Friday in the trunk of her car — more than six weeks after she was arrested and the car towed to a wrecking yard.
Deputy County Attorney Joel Thompson said Monday that authorities have yet to determine how the 2-year-old died or how long ago. According to court records, ManyWhiteHorses told police the boy’s death was an accident, and that she placed his body in the car’s trunk on May 29.
ManyWhiteHorses was being held Monday on $250,000 bail. During a brief court hearing, she appeared without an attorney and was provided forms for a public defender.
An attempt to speak with her at the Cascade County Detention Center was unsuccessful.
ManyWhiteHorses was first arrested July 21, after authorities said she was driving erratically. As police attempted to pull her over, she drove through several stoplights and crashed into a parked car. Her 11-year-old daughter was in the back seat and, unknown to police, the toddler’s body was apparently in the trunk, authorities said.
Police officers did not search the trunk, and the car was towed. ManyWhiteHorses was arrested, and child welfare officials began looking into placing the daughter into state custody.
ManyWhiteHorses was given misdemeanor citations in connection with the crash and later released from jail. Authorities said she did not retrieve her car even though she was free to do so.
Child welfare officials moved for custody of the daughter in August and were trying to determine the boy’s whereabouts.
During the investigation, authorities learned that ManyWhiteHorses told relatives the state had taken the toddler long ago, that state officials were told initially the child was in Browning and then later that he was in Portland, Ore.
“Her stories varied based upon who she was talking to,” said police Detective Bruce McDermott.
Police were brought into the case last week after child welfare agents could not verify the toddler’s location. At that point, no one had seen the child for 2½ months, according to court records.
A missing persons report was issued, and a short time later ManyWhiteHorses told officers the toddler, who had autism, had died in late May, according to court records. ManyWhiteHorses told police she put the body in the trunk, wrapped in a blanket inside a garbage bag, the affidavit said.
Officers went to the wrecking yard and found the boy’s body in the trunk, authorities said.
“We don’t think this stuff would happen here,” McDermott said in an interview Monday. “It shocks everyone’s senses.”
ManyWhiteHorses’ aunt, Ernestine Small, said she had taken care of the two children during ManyWhiteHorses’ prior run-ins with the law. Small had been hoping to take custody again this summer, but was told by ManyWhiteHorses that the toddler had already been taken by the state and placed in foster care.
“Nobody expected this,” Small said in an interview at the courthouse. “I know she gets violent, but never thought she would do this to her baby.”
Prosecutors said they don’t know exactly how the toddler died. An autopsy is pending.
At Monday’s initial court appearance, ManyWhiteHorses appeared over a video conferencing system from the jail. She cried quietly and answered “yeah” to the judge’s queries whether she understood the charges.
Both prosecutors and police said the officers followed the law by not searching the trunk after ManyWhiteHorses’ July 21 arrest, saying legal cause and a search warrant would have been needed.
“Police had no reason to believe there was anything of evidentiary value in the trunk,” McDermott said.
Small, ManyWhiteHorses’ aunt, said the officers could not have known to search the trunk.
“Why would they?” she said. “They had no reason.”
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