The Case of the Two Abigails

The last morning of Abigail Nicole Lahnan's short life begins peacefully.

It is March 23, 2005, a Wednesday.

Abby, who was born at Phoenix Baptist Hospital on November 28, 2003, awakens in her crib across the hall from her parents, Deanna and Patrick. The young family lives in a second-story unit at the Papago Park Apartments on Taylor Street in east Phoenix.

Both parents work long hours, Deanna for a Mesa real estate firm and Pat as a baggage handler at Sky Harbor International Airport. On his days off, Pat works out of his home for a local mortgage company.

Deanna feeds Abby a waffle, a banana and milk before leaving for a work-related class at 8:30 a.m. After that, she plans on heading to her job.

It's one of Pat's days off from his airport job.

Pat places Abby in her crib for a nap about 9:30, and closes her door behind him.

He takes a shower, and then goes to work on his computer.

Time slips away. About 11:30, Pat goes to check on Abby, who's been in her crib for going on two hours.

He opens the bedroom door.

Moments later, Pat starts to scream.

The last day of Abigail Rose Minor's short life also begins peacefully.

It is August 26, 2005, a Friday.

This Abigail was born October 24, 2002, at Thunderbird Samaritan Hospital, to Amy and Eric Natzel (they weren't married when Amy Minor bore her first child, named after the celebrated Beatles LP Abbey Road).

Eric is 26. Amy is 22, and just a few weeks from giving birth to her second child, who's going to be a boy.

The Natzels live in a two-bedroom unit at the Cactus Trail Apartments, near Interstate 17 and Deer Valley Road.

Amy Natzel works at a CVS pharmacy, where she's known as dependable and friendly. But her co-workers, friends and family know of her miserable home life.

Though she's pregnant, Amy looks dangerously underweight, and often seems depressed.

They blame Eric, her husband of two years.

Eric is unemployed, and he tends to Abbey while his wife works.

His idea of a perfect day is playing video games and smoking weed. His latest obsession is Metroids, a game in which alien predators suck the life out of their prey like leeches.

That's how Eric's in-laws view his relationship with their daughter. They consider him a self-centered boor with a hair-trigger temper.

Abbey awakens her father about 10:30 a.m. on the 26th. Dad and daughter shower together as Amy putters around. Amy serves Abbey a bowl of ramen noodles before leaving for work about 12:30 p.m.

Eric soon takes Abbey to a nearby park. But it's awfully hot; the high temperature in Phoenix will reach 109 degrees. Eric and Abbey soon return to the air-conditioned apartment.

By now, it's early afternoon, and Eric tells Abbey to go watch cartoons (Lilo & Stitch) in her room before napping. He loses track of time, saying later, "I was enthralled in the video game I was playing."

Amy phones him from work sometime after 5 p.m. She asks where Abbey is, that she'd like to say hello. He looks around the child's cluttered bedroom, but can't find her. Eric gets back on the phone and tells his wife.

Amy tells him to look in the bathroom. But Abbey isn't there, either.

She suggests that Eric look more carefully in Abbey's bedroom closet, where a cardboard toy box with a domed lid sits on the floor. Amy had seen Abbey playing in and around the box a day earlier, and knows how the colorful cartoon characters painted on it attract her little girl.

Eric returns to the phone and tells Amy there's a problem.

Abbey is choking, he tells his wife. Get home.

He hangs up and dials 911.

It's 5:37 p.m. A ceiling fan hangs from the middle of Abby Lahnan's bedroom. An electrical cord entwined with a decorative chain runs from the fan across the ceiling and down a wall to an outlet.

Abby's crib is up against that wall.

Pat Lahnan says later that Abby somehow pulled the cord into her crib in the shape of a noose. He will say he saw Abby's little head tangled in the "noose," and that she wasn't breathing. He'd freed her and pulled her out of the crib.

Pat doesn't think to call 911. In fact, he's not thinking at all.

He runs down the steps with Abby in his arms.

Oklahoma resident Shawna Rogers is sunbathing by the complex swimming pool. She's visiting her father, who lives at the complex.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin