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Cops say leads helpful in probe of baby's death

March 24, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Charles Town, W.Va. - Jefferson County Sheriff's Department officials were "definitely moving forward" in the investigation into the death of a newborn baby boy, whose body was found Sunday under the U.S. 340 bridge that crosses the Shenandoah River, a spokesman for the department said Tuesday.

Cpl. Dave Colbert said the department was acting on leads and other information that people have forwarded to the department. He would not go into detail about what type of leads his department has received, saying it was too early in the investigation to comment.

Colbert said the leads involve areas "from California to Virginia."

Colbert said he spent 14 hours Tuesday following up on leads with the help of other law enforcement officials.

"We were all over the place. We've got some valuable leads we are actively pursuing. The investigation is definitely moving forward," Colbert said.

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An outpouring of support from organizations and individuals wanting to help with the infant's burial continued Tuesday, Colbert said.

Funeral homes in Jefferson and Berkeley counties offered funeral services for the child and people wanted to know how they could donate money for a burial, Colbert said.

The funeral homes offered to pay for everything, including the casket, headstone and funeral services, Colbert said.

"Everybody's getting on board," Colbert said.

He said previously that officials will not be able to bury the baby until the case is resolved.

Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober on Tuesday called attention again to a state law that is designed to protect infants.

Under the law, passed in 2000, parents can leave a baby at a hospital or a health-care facility if they do not want the child. The child must be brought to a hospital within 30 days of the birth, according to the law.

Parents will not be criminally penalized for leaving the child as long as the baby is not seriously injured, according to the law.

In accepting the child, a hospital may not require the parents to identify themselves, Boober said.

Boober said the law can help people, especially young people, deal with an unwanted pregnancy, which can cause them to act irrationally and think that disposing of the infant may be the only solution.

"I don't think a lot of people are aware of the existence of this law," Boober said.

Teresa McCabe, spokeswoman for City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., said she was not aware of the law. McCabe said she talked with a nurse manager in the hospital's emergency room and she also was unaware of the law.

City Hospital officials did not know of any baby who had been brought to the hospital since the law was passed, McCabe said.

A Harpers Ferry National Historical Park ranger found the baby's body under the U.S. 340 bridge Sunday afternoon, deputies said.

The ranger thought the bag, which was on the Harpers Ferry side of the river, contained garbage, said Sgt. Sam Harmon. After realizing that the bag was probably too heavy to contain trash, the ranger opened it and found the baby's body, Harmon said.

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

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

Investigators believe someone was trying to throw the bag into the river.

Based on an autopsy of the body, officials believe the baby may have been alive when he was tossed or dropped from the bridge, Colbert has said.

Police believe the baby, who suffered head trauma, died as a result of hitting the riverbank, Colbert said. The baby may have been lying on the riverbank for one to three months, he said.

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