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The Pocono Record
Staff WriterPocono Record
Published 12:00 a.m. ET Aug 6., 2003
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Mine Ener was one of Villanova University’s rising academics, a Middle East specialist recently promoted to associate professor and busy at work on her second book.
But at home, Ener was a new mother who struggled with depression after her daughter was born with Down syndrome. She had been back at the Minnesota home where she grew up for about a week when, according to a criminal complaint, she used a kitchen knife to cut the 6-month-old girl’s throat.
On Tuesday, Ener was charged with second-degree murder, leaving colleagues and neighbors bewildered and women’s health advocates calling for increased awareness of postpartum depression.
“You feel bad as a community. You feel like maybe you could have been there for them,” said Miriam DeRoode, who lives across the street from the Ener home.
Nobody answered the door Tuesday morning at the quaint, light gray house. Police said it was there, a day earlier, that Ener gave her daughter, Raya Donagi, her morning feeding and then carried her to the bathroom, pausing in the kitchen to get a knife. Ener told police she laid the baby on her back and then leaned over, pressing the 12-inch knife’s blade twice across Raya’s throat.
“I killed my baby with a knife,” Ener, 38, told medics when they arrived.
Her hands covered in what appeared to be blood, police say Ener sat with her hands crossed in front of her chest, her mother holding her from behind as the medics tried to revive Raya.
Ener told police that her daughter recently had a feeding tube removed, and breast and bottle feeding were not going well. She said she was afraid the tube, which Raya hated, would have to be reinserted.
It was a hopeless situation, she told police, and she didn’t want Raya to go through life suffering. Ener said her husband and family were more optimistic than she was about her daughter’s quality of life, according to a criminal complaint.
A preliminary autopsy showed the baby bled to death from two wounds to the neck.
Ener, who was being held at the Ramsey County adult detention center, told police that she had thought about killing herself for several weeks.
Family members told police that the baby’s father was attending a conference in California on Monday when the incident happened, police Sgt. Bruce Wyncoop said, adding he didn’t know when the father would come to Minnesota.
Michael Bonner, who met Ener in the 1980s when she was attending graduate school at the University of Michigan, where he currently teaches, called the allegations “surreal” and “not remotely in her character.”
“I always thought she was a highly motivated but balanced person,” said Bonner, who co-edited with Ener the book “Poverty and Charity in the Middle Eastern Contexts.”
While working together on the book over the past year, Ener did not seem depressed or stressed, and she did not discuss her personal life, Bonner said.
Ener frequently traveled to Egypt and Turkey for research. At Villanova, she was appointment director of the university’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies. She was granted tenure last year and was writing another book to be published in June.
It was through e-mail that she announced the Feb. — birth of Raya with her husband, Ron Y. Donagi, a mathematics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, whom she married last year.
“I thought she was right on track,” Bonner said. “I thought she was doing just fine, working really hard.”
But it was after Raya’s birth that Ener began having emotional problems, family told police.
In her confession to police, Ener said she suffered from postpartum depression and was on medication.
Ener may have believed that killing the baby was an act of mercy, said Dr. Shari Lusskin, a reproductive psychiatrist at New York University Medical Center.
She may have reached out for help, but her family and her doctors may not have recognized the severity of her depression, Lusskin said. Women also may fear that their child will be taken away, she said.
“There is still a tremendous amount of shame and guilt and many women do not seek the help they need,” Lusskin said. “These women with severe postpartum mood disorders suffer in silence.”
It’s not uncommon for such women to act in the very matter-of-fact way that police described Ener’s demeanor. She said she was sorry, but did not cry, they noted.
She told an officer about her travels through the Middle East for her studies, but added, “(A)fter what I just did, I don’t think that I will be doing much traveling,” according to the complaint.
A graduate of St. Paul Central High School, Ener attended St. Paul’s Macalester College. She earned a doctoral degree at the University of Michigan and started at Villanova in 1996.
Ener and Donagi moved out of their rental home outside of Philadelphia in June, where they had been living since at least last fall, said Jeanne Adams, a neighbor there. She would sometimes see Ener walking with the baby in a baby carriage down the street, but Adams said Ener never stopped to say hello.
“They didn’t talk to any of the neighbors as far as I know,” Adams said. “I didn’t even know their names.”
Back in St. Paul, DeRoode planned a moment of silence for the family at a block party Tuesday night.
“It’s a good neighborhood, a good community,” she said, looking at the Ener home across the street. “It really can happen anywhere.”
Associated Press writer Jennifer Kay in Philadelphia contributed to this report.