An Indianapolis mother who was reported missing by her family and friends has been found — but police are now reporting that the circumstance of disappearance is more tragic than they could have imagined. Rachel McAfee, 36, and her 3-month-old daughter were discovered Tuesday in her car. The mom was frostbitten but in stable condition, whereas her daughter was pronounced dead at the scene. Police are working to piece together exactly what happened, but they suspect the mother's mental health may have been a major factor in this case.
Rachel's husband, John, first realized she and their newborn were missing on Monday, when she failed to bring their daughter to his parent's house.
John McAfee explained that his parents were expecting his wife and daughter, Emma, at their house, but they never showed, according to WTHR. She then missed an appointment at 11 a.m., which was also deeply troubling.
"My biggest concern is my daughter. She's only 3 months old. Obviously, she can't fend for herself. My wife can. My wife's not the most fit mentally, currently, so that's a big concern," he said.
"She had a little bit of depression going on," he added. "Just hasn't been her normal self."
But on the morning that his wife disappeared, the dad said she seemed normal before she left the house. "[It was just] a normal conversation. Just, 'Hey, babe. Love you. See you later,'" he said. "Gave each other a kiss and walked out the door."
WishTV noted that at the time, the dad said he didn't know why his wife had vanished. He added that his wife had never brought up leaving before but she had threatened to harm herself in the past.
Concerned friends and family started to look for the new mom. A friend even posted a missing person's message on her Facebook page, urging their community to let them know if anyone had seen the mom and to let them know if they did "ASAP."
Police finally found the new mom when a homeowner called police to report a woman and her baby parked together.
Police discovered Rachel and Emma in their gray Subaru Forester on Tuesday morning. Police responded to the call with a welfare check, which was when they discovered that the mother had frostbite — a result of the below-windchill temperatures outside — and Emma was already dead. Rachel was rushed to Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis to be treated.
"This is extremely tragic," said Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Deputy Chris Bailey. "[Police] were in the process of working with state police to issue a silver alert based on some of the medical conditions," he said. After the mother and her baby were found, police called off the search.
It's unclear how long the pair were parked, and police are investigating Rachel's actions in relation to her drinking and postpartum depression.
Fox 59 reported that police had gone to do an emotional welfare check on the mother before, just a week prior to her disappearance. And John admitted that his wife had a problem with alcohol. "She’s drank since I’ve known her, but it’s gotten out of control the last couple of years. That’s kind of when all this started spiraling,” he said.
Police are still investigating what happened to the mother and daughter, but they believe she might have been suicidal and was battling with postpartum depression.
Sara Pollard, an Indiana coordinator of Postpartum Support International, told reporters she isn't able to speak about this particular crime at the moment, though she urges parents to investigate support resources if they are starting to feel signs of postpartum depression.
"We think of pregnancy and being a new mom as a happy, joyous time," Pollard said. "But certainly we know that as many as one in five to one in seven women will have symptoms of some type of mood or anxiety disorder."
The intensity and type of symptoms can differ from person to person. "It can be guilt. It can be feeling overwhelmed. Maybe even some sadness, some 'This isn't what I thought it would be,'" she continued. "'This is harder than I anticipated.' So, that's very unique to each woman who is experiencing symptoms."
"Please don't hesitate to reach out," she said. "Please don't suffer in silence." Pollard said many of the people who volunteer at her organization are survivors of PPD themselves.
It's important to note, however, that there is no direct correlation between perinatal mood disorders and infanticide abuse and neglect.
As for John McAfee, police refused to let him see his wife and daughter and would not allow him near the car where his little girl died.
"It's not something we can allow to happen. We've had that discussion with the father. It was not an easy thing to do, being a father myself," Bailey told WishTV. "It's not something we can allow him to do, being a criminal investigation at this point."
Rachel McAfee has since been arrested and charged with neglect of a dependent, causing death. Information about whether she entered a plea or retained an attorney was not available.
This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.