Jeremy, a newborn, with his older brother Daniel, 2. (Photo: Heidi Langdon)
In July 2000, Heidi Langdon’s husband murdered their 5-week-old son, Jeremy. Today, Jeremy would have been 15 years old. She opened up to Yahoo Parenting’s Rachel Bertsche.
My ex-husband and I got married because I was pregnant. It was a stupid reason to get married, I know, but we were 23 and there was pressure from parents—basically from everyone – so we went ahead with it. John and I had been dating for about a year, and in February 2000, we were husband and wife.
My pregnancy was a tough one. I was put on bed rest halfway through, and at about 33 weeks I felt something that I thought was my water breaking. The doctors said everything was fine, but when I went to an appointment a couple weeks later, they rushed me to be induced because I had no fluid left. I was just past 35 weeks when I had Jeremy, but he’d gone for two weeks with very little fluid, so it was as if he was delivered at 33 weeks.
STORY: My Husband Killed Our Kids
When he was born on May 27, the doctors said Jeremy was healthy, but I noticed right away that he cried all the time. Not just cry, scream. It was 18 to 22 hours of crying every day, and John was working long hours – he was a restaurant cook – so no one was getting very much sleep. Jeremy had a lot of stomach issues and rejected every formula we tried. Plus, we were living with my parents in their small town of Zeeland, Mich., while we got on our feet. It was a stressful time.
On July 3, when Jeremy was just over five weeks old, I went to get him out of his crib in the morning and his head looked funny. It was sort of pointy at the top and flat on the sides. I thought it was because we slept him on his side (it was the only way he wouldn’t cry). He didn’t seem to be in any pain, but I took him to the doctor that day to be safe. John came with me.
Heidi Langdon married her second husband, Mark, in 2003, after John was convicted of second-degree murder. She is pictured here in 2004 with Mark, their daughter Lexi, who was born in 2001, and her first son, Daniel. (Photo: Heidi Langdon)
During the appointment, I remember the doctor specifically asking, “Has the baby had any trauma?” I said no. John said no. So the doctor just said the flatness was probably due to sleeping so much on the same side, and that we should try the opposite side going forward.
The next night, after we went to see the 4th of July fireworks, Jeremy wouldn’t stop crying. I stayed up most of the night with him while John slept, but eventually I was so tired I couldn’t do it anymore. I woke John up, asked if he could stay with the baby while I slept for a little, and he agreed. At 3:45, I went to sleep.
Less than two hours later, at 5:30 am, John woke me up with Jeremy in his arms, panicked, saying Jeremy wasn’t breathing. I was disoriented and confused. I thought maybe something had happened related to all of the baby’s stomach problems. Or that maybe Jeremy vomited and it was stuck in his throat, or maybe it was SIDS — I didn’t know what was going on.
Jeremy was, in fact, breathing, but it was very shallow. One breath every 35 seconds or so. We called 911, but because it was a small town, the police were all volunteers and it took them 15 minutes to get to our house. When they did, they started CPR and the EMTs tried to intubate him. But he was a tiny baby — a 5-week-old who’d been a preemie, so he was basically just full-term size — and they used an adult-sized tube, so they ended up ripping the lining of his throat. They put him in an ambulance and I was in the front seat, with John and my parents trailing behind, and I remember one of the EMTs calling the ER asking what dose of epi to give Jeremy because he’d stopped breathing.
The ER worked on Jeremy for three hours before I got any update, but I saw him as he was wheeled past the waiting room for tests. There were tubes everywhere. He was intubated, had IVs, his eyes were shut and his head was swollen. I couldn’t believe it was my child. And I still had no idea what happened – no one had told me anything.
Eventually the pediatric specialist told me that Jeremy had a skull fracture and retinal hemorrhaging, as well as some broken ribs, which might have been from the CPR. What the doctor really zeroed in on was the skull fracture, and asked if I might know how it happened. Daniel, my 2-year-old, used to have a big Tonka truck he loved to share with the baby, so I guessed that maybe he threw the truck into the crib. But the doctor said no, this injury had to have been caused by someone. I was wracking my brain, trying to think of who had held him at the 4th of July celebration. I had no idea what could have caused it, and John stood there and said nothing.
Today, Heidi Landgon lives in Texas with her second husband, Mark, her son Daniel, 16, and Lexi, 13. (Photo: Heidi Langdon)
Because of the skull fracture, the doctor told me they would have to call the police and Child Protective Services. I remember thinking, “Why are they calling the police? How are they going to fix Jeremy?” I still didn’t understand that someone actually hurt him. I thought it was an accident.
The doctor was very cryptic with the information he gave me: I knew they were taking Jeremy for more tests, that he had a skull fracture, and that they were calling the police. That was it.
Two male detectives arrived and questioned me in a hospital conference room for 45 minutes. They wanted to know everything – about my pregnancy, about what life was like at home. They asked me for my theories about what happened and I answered honestly: I didn’t know. I remember saying, “I can’t tell you because I have no clue.”
John went in after me and he was in that room for four hours. I couldn’t figure out what was taking so long, but also couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. Whose life was this? I went from having a seemingly healthy baby and happy family to one who was hooked up to tubes and a family being questioned by police in a matter of hours.
Eventually, the detectives emerged from the conference room. They gave me this strange look and just said, “Your husband needs to talk to you.” So I went in, and it was just John and me, and he looked at me and said “I did it. It was me.”
I didn’t understand. “You did what? What was you?”
“I’m the one who caused this to happen,” he said.
I just kept saying “I don’t understand,” and pretty soon the detectives walked back in.
The four of us sat down at the conference table — the detectives didn’t want to leave us alone for very long, since they needed to hear everything John had to say. He tried to explain: “Jeremy was screaming and I couldn’t handle it.” John said he’d been holding Jeremy so they were facing each other, and Jeremy’s head was in his hands, and he just squeezed because he was so frustrated, and when he squeezed he fractured Jeremy’s skull.
I didn’t understand how anyone could have the physical strength to do something like that with their bare hands, until one of the detectives picked up an empty box of tissues and squeezed the sides. The box crumpled pretty easily – that was what had happened, they said.
John said he snapped. That he couldn’t handle the screaming anymore. I asked why he didn’t just get me, or my parents, and he said it happened before he realized what he was doing. But then the detectives told him to tell me the whole story, and it turned out that John did the same thing two nights earlier. That’s why Jeremy’s head had been misshapen.
I was so confused. I said, “so when his head was flat the other morning, that had to do with you? Why didn’t you just tell the doctor?” He didn’t say anything.
After that, they took John to jail. The doctors let me see Jeremy. They told me the damage was extensive – they wouldn’t know exactly what was wrong until his brain swelling went down, but they knew that he was blind and deaf, that he had lost his cough gag reflex, and that he couldn’t breathe on his own.
We first called 911 around 5:30 a.m., and I went home at around 9 p.m. to get Daniel and to try and sleep. I remember sitting in the shower, just staring — not even crying — not believing that this was my life, or that I had to go back to the hospital soon to see my son who was pretty much brain-dead, at the hands of his father.
[My 2-year-old son] Daniel had been at the neighbors’ house – he ended up having to get a full-body x-ray but luckily John, who was not his biological father, had never hurt him. That first night, he just laid in bed with me. I swear that boy saved my life that evening. I was heartbroken, and if I didn’t have him, I don’t know what I would have done.
Over the next two and a half weeks, I bounced between the hospital and the court. I was still in denial about John – I couldn’t imagine that he did it – but he didn’t get bail. I only saw him face-to-face once during that time, for a half hour. I asked him to reiterate what happened, he told the same story.
Meanwhile, Jeremy was being kept alive by machines. The doctors were encouraging me to sign a DNR, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It felt like signing a death wish. But 11 days after he got hurt, Jeremy’s breathing tube fell out while he was getting a bath. We ended up not putting it back in, and while he did breathe on his own, he needed to be constantly suctioned because saliva would build up, and he was on a feeding tube. A few days later, the doctors told me I needed to call hospice.
As it turned out, we never got that far. On July 22, 2000, Jeremy died. His breathing was slow and labored, and while I’d been telling him to fight for a couple of weeks, this time I just looked at him and said, “It’s ok, you can go.” Within two minutes, he was gone.
It was the most painful and most beautiful moment of my life. It had been a gray and cloudy day, and the minute he died, the sun come out. He was no longer in any pain.
John ended up being charged with second-degree murder. He pled guilty, and the case never went to trial. After he was sentenced – 17 to 33 years – I filed divorce papers. By then, I had accepted that he had killed Jeremy. My therapist said I was compartmentalizing, that for a while I couldn’t focus on John’s role in what happened because I was entirely concentrated on being there for my son. But after Jeremy died, I had a lot of anger. A lot. John and I had gone through rough patches, but I never in a million years thought he was capable of something like this. He was never aggressive or rough. If anything, I was the aggressive one. It became incredibly hard to trust anyone.
During that time, I met my now-husband, Mark, and I gave birth to our daughter, Lexi, in November 2001. For the first eight weeks of her life, I barely let Mark touch her. He’s been a saint with everything I’ve been through, and it’s been hard for me to trust my kids in the care of other people. But we’ve since moved to Texas, and it was the best thing for us. I haven’t been back to Michigan since I left.
John’s 17 years will be up in two years. I’m told he’ll likely get out then for good behavior, but I’m going to fight it. I think he should serve the full 33 years. I don’t get to have Jeremy back, so why should he not have to serve his entire sentence?
Jeremy would have been 15 today. Every morning I wake up and think of him, but the days get easier and easier, and a decade and a half later the pain isn’t constant. May is hard, since it’s Jeremy’s birthday. July is hard, since it’s when he died. But every May and every July, the kids and my new husband save my life all over again. I couldn’t do it without them.