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Police say bridge drop may have killed baby

March 23, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

A newborn baby boy whose body was found under the U.S. 340 bridge in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., on Sunday may have been alive when he was tossed or dropped over the span and may have been lying along the bank of the Shenandoah River for up to three months, a Jefferson County Sheriff's Department spokesman said Monday.

Based on an autopsy conducted in Charleston, W.Va., it appears the baby's heart was beating and that the 7-pound boy was healthy when he was tossed or dropped from the bridge, said Cpl. Dave Colbert.

The autopsy results have led police to believe the baby, who suffered head trauma, died as a result of hitting the riverbank, Colbert said.

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"It's a fully active murder investigation at this point," Colbert said.

Colbert said there were few visible signs of decomposition on the baby's body. There was, however, internal decomposition, which is how medical examiners determined the baby had been dead between one and three months, Colbert said.

It is possible that the baby's body wasn't found earlier because it may have been covered by snow, Colbert said.

Even if someone saw the bag, there might have seemed to be no reason to check it out, he said.

The infant's body was found about 2:30 p.m. Sunday by a Harpers Ferry National Historical Park ranger who responded to the area for a call of a water rescue, Sgt. Sam Harmon said.

The ranger initially thought the bag, which was spotted on the Harpers Ferry side of the river, contained garbage, Harmon said.

After realizing that the bag probably was too heavy to contain trash, the ranger opened it and found the baby, Harmon said.

The body, with the umbilical cord still attached, was wrapped in a pink sheet, then a white sheet, Harmon said. The bundle was placed inside a garbage bag with three 5-pound dumbbells and tied shut, Harmon said.

That bag was placed in another plastic garbage bag, which was loosely tied, Harmon said.

Investigators believe someone tried to throw the bag into the river.

Because the baby landed on land owned by Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the FBI is joining the sheriff's department in the investigation, Colbert said.

Colbert said Monday that additional evidence was found in one of the trash bags. The evidence, which Colbert declined to describe, has been sent to an FBI lab in Washington for analysis, Colbert said.

The rise in baby abandonments in recent years has prompted West Virginia and other states to adopt immunity laws.

West Virginia passed its law in 2000 specifically to prevent newborns from being dumped in trash bins or killed. Under the law, parents would not be criminally penalized for leaving an infant at a hospital or health-care facility within 30 days of the child's birth, as long as the child is not seriously injured.

Investigators began working on leads in the case Monday and have developed a list of "persons of interest." The people are not suspects, Colbert said. He said the list includes the names of people to whom police would like to speak in an effort to learn more about the baby's death.

The list is being developed as deputies speak with other law enforcement officials in the county regarding the case, Colbert said.

Although that work is important, Colbert said he believes a quick, successful resolution of the case will depend on someone contacting the sheriff's department and offering information.

Investigators ask that anyone with information about the case call them at 304-728-3205 during business hours. After business hours, investigators can be contacted at 304-725-8484.

Sheriff's department personnel began receiving calls Monday from individuals and people representing church and community groups wanting to make sure the baby has a proper burial and wanting to donate money for a funeral, Colbert said.

"I had one lady who said, 'Hey, I want to pay for it,'" Colbert said.

Colbert said officials will not be able to arrange for the baby's burial until the case is resolved.

"That could be a week, it could be a couple of years," Colbert said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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