Friends say mom who killed daughter, self seemed fine, but fought postpartum

A few weeks ago, Desiree Vistercil took her 16-month-old daughter, Mia Allison, to the Treasure Valley YMCA in Boise for beginner swimming lessons.

The toddler won’t get the opportunity to continue those lessons, however. Mia died earlier this week after Vistercil forced the girl’s head into a five-gallon bucket of water, drowning her, Owyhee County sheriff’s officials said. Vistercil then fatally shot herself inside her car next to a bridge near rural Bruneau, investigators said.

The bodies were found Tuesday morning by a farm worker, and autopsy results are pending. Officials have not said why they believe the Jordan Valley, Ore., resident killed her daughter and herself.

Flahiff Funeral Chapel in Homedale is in charge of arrangements. Services have not been scheduled, a chapel spokeswoman said late Friday.

A friend suggested that memorials in the mother and daughter’s names go to the Suicide Prevention Action Network Idaho or Postpartum Progress.

“I just don’t how you get from taking swim lessons and being excited that she’s walking to ... how it just changed in just a couple of weeks,” said Anna Staver, who knew Vistercil from a Facebook group for new moms that met regularly at homes in Boise and Meridian.

Mia was born in July 2015, three months after Staver’s daughter, Harper, was born. As new mothers, Staver and Vistercil faced a lot of the same joys and struggles.

Both girls were late crawlers and walkers, Staver said, and both moms initially worried there might be something medically wrong.

Staver, a former reporter with Nampa’s Idaho Press-Tribune who now works for KUSA-TV in Denver, said she last spoke to Vistercil a little over a month ago. Vistercil was still worried that her daughter hadn’t started walking yet, and Staver tried to reassure her that it was just a matter of time.

“On Nov. 18, she posted super-excitedly — like in all caps — that Mia was finally walking,” Staver said. “I remember being very excited for her.”

Karol Ann Ralston met Vistercil two years when they began working together at the Walmart on North Ten Mile Road in Meridian.

“She was funny, outgoing and a goof,” Ralston said. “She knew her job well and was loved and liked by many people.”

Vistercil, she said, was “so happy” when she learned that she was pregnant, and later said Mia “was a blessing from above.”

A 2004 graduate of Sugar-Salem High School in Sugar City, Vistercil earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Idaho State University in 2013, according to her LinkedIn profile. She completed a church mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in North Carolina in 2008, according to a Facebook post.

She told Ralston that she was glad to move to Jordan Valley, a small Oregon town near the Idaho and Nevada state lines.

“She liked being in the country and felt to raise a child out there would be wonderful,” Ralston said.

After Mia was born, Vistercil would often stop by the store to show her off to former co-workers.

“She always had a smile on her face. She was so proud to have her,” Ralston said.

This week’s news hit Ralston and her colleagues hard. “We all cried after finding out,” she said.

When she was a teenager in Sugar City, Vistercil baby-sat the five children of Celeste Gorton Frogue.

“I talked to her recently, in the last two months, and she said she was grateful for the experience she had with me,” Gorton Frogue said. “As she watched Mia grow, she remembered my kids and tried to incorporate what she had learned from us into Mia’s life.”

Vistercil suffered from postpartum depression, Ralston said, but it wasn’t something she liked to talk about.

Postpartum Progress, a national group that works to improve awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, estimates that 20 percent of new mothers — 1.3 million women per year — experience such disorders. That compares to 800,000 women diagnosed annually with diabetes, 300,000 who suffer a stroke and 205,000 diagnosed with breast cancer.

Symptoms of postpartum depression can include severe mood swings, excessive crying, difficulty bonding with the child, withdrawing from family and friends, feelings of worthlessness and overwhelming fatigue, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Outwardly, Vistercil didn’t let on that anything was wrong, her friends said.

Staver said she’s saddened that her friend didn’t reach out to her or other members of the group for help.

“She had a support network, whether she realized it or not, of women who would have been really willing to help her,” Staver said.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell

Cynthia Sewell contributed.