Abandoned babies: Help’s available for overwhelmed moms

  • By Eric Stevick and Amy Nile Herald Writers
  • Monday, March 28, 2016 9:04pm
  • Local NewsEverett

EVERETT — At first Paula Andrews wondered if the sound coming from the trash compactor might be a wayward kitten.

Whatever the mysterious noise was, it was alarming enough to warrant a 911 call Friday evening.

“I thought maybe it was a cat but it sounds like a baby,” the woman from the south Everett apartment complex told the emergency dispatcher that night. “We can’t find anything but we hear it crying.”

“It could be a doll,” Andrews added during the 1 minute and 23 second conversation. “I have no idea, but it sounds like a baby.”

Andrews eventually climbed into the dumpster to find out.

“I really didn’t know it was a baby until I started digging,” she said Monday. “It’s just that motherly instinct.”

Andrews said the baby was beneath a microwave she’d put in the trash earlier in the afternoon. His umbilical cord still was attached.

Andrews, a mother of two, soon is expecting to become a grandmother for the first time. She credits a young woman who was standing by the dumpster with bringing the sound to her attention.

“She’s the real hero,” she said.

The newborn boy was taken to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett where he is in stable condition, police said.

There is no indication when or why the newborn was left in the bin at the Mirabella Apartments in the 800 block of 112th Street SE.

A team of detectives descended on the complex, asking questions and gathering evidence.

On Monday, police renewed their plea for information.

“We don’t currently have any tips that would help us determine who the parents are so we are imploring the public to help us out,” Everett police officer Aaron Snell said. “Someone somewhere out there knows something.”

The tip line is 425-257-8450.

Police also are looking for any surveillance footage that might aid in the investigation.

While police try to determine how the baby ended up in the dumpster, it will be up to prosecutors to decide what, if any, criminal charges are filed at some point, Snell said.

That is not the immediate concern.

“I think the welfare of the mother is a key factor,” Everett police Sgt. Maryjane Hacker said. “There needs to be some follow-up care.”

Evidence will be submitted to the Washington State Patrol crime lab in an effort to match DNA samples to the mother, Snell said.

Over the years, Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe has closely monitored local cases of abandoned babies.

In 2006, for instance, a newborn found in a plastic garbage bag was left near a drainage pond in Marysville. Neighbors in the area heard crying around 11 p.m. on a July night and someone climbed a fence to retrieve the newborn, the umbilical cord still attached. The 17-year-old mother was charged with assault and child abandonment.

“Every single situation resulting in someone abandoning a baby is unique, but all have one thing in common,” Roe said. “They are horrendously sad.”

Usually, he said, it involves “scared kids” who sometimes didn’t even realize they were pregnant.

Last year, detectives with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office asked for help finding a 16-year-old girl and her infant daughter. The teen was believed to have given birth outside medical observation, but deputies have no idea where the baby might be. Her daughter was considered endangered due to the lack of medical care and her mother’s alleged heroin use.

Detectives still are investigating that case, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

State and federal law aims to protect newborns whose mothers might feel overwhelmed. In Washington, mothers can leave their newborns with a staff member or volunteer at any manned fire station, rural clinic or hospital emergency room — no questions asked.

That happened five times during the first 11 months of 2015, according to state records.

Since the law took effect in Washington in 2002, Safe Place for Newborns of Washington has counted 55 babies turned over.

“The law protects two lives, the baby and the life of the mother,” said Maryanne Heinbaugh, a member of the Safe Place board.

The dozens of babies brought to safety sounds good, but when a case occurs similar to what happened in Everett on Friday, it points out that “we need to work harder to get information out there,” Heinbaugh said.

The Everett baby was born within two miles of a fire station.

Parents aren’t required to say anything, but are encouraged to share some information that could help care for the child. That information could include details about the child’s health, race, date of birth, place of birth or the medical history of the parents.

Under Safe Haven Infant Protection laws, a parent can give up custody anonymously and without criminal repercussions as long as the child shows no signs of intentional abuse.

Child Protective Services is then called to care for the baby. The parent is referred to emotional and legal support services.

Typically, a dependency hearing is scheduled soon after a baby is abandoned to determine if there are any relatives with whom to place the child, said Norah West, a CPS spokeswoman. If there aren’t, the child is placed in foster care.

Long Island police paramedic Timothy Jaccard started working to prevent babies from abandonment and death after being called to a courthouse in 1999. He was unable to save a newborn girl who had been wrapped in plastic and laid across a toilet seat in the women’s restroom.

The rash of abandoned infant deaths didn’t end there. Scared, young parents, Jaccard said, couldn’t leave their newborns without facing criminal charges.

The longtime medical officer started crisis pregnancy support programs and lobbied his state and others to pass so-called “safe haven” or “baby Moses” laws.

“It’s to prevent the deaths of these babies,” Jaccard said.

Texas in 1999 became the first of 50 states to pass a safe-haven law. Now, Jaccard wants to see the states unified under a federal law.

Many young about-to-be parents panic and face denial about a pregnancy, he said. Jaccard’s often seen other troubles such as sexual abuse, rape and drug addiction contributing to their desire to abandon the baby.

As part of his work with the National Safe Haven Alliance, Jaccard helps coordinate five crisis centers across the country. In Washington, the number to call for help is 1-888-510-BABY.

Counselors first try to help a distressed parent find a way to keep their baby with family. If that doesn’t work, they then work on assisting with a closed adoption. As a last resort, counselors help find a safe haven so the newborn can be dropped off.

Jaccard counts 3,126 babies who have been safely given up under safe haven programs nationwide since 1999. But, he said, more often women choose other options after being given guidance.

Rikki King contributed to this story.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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