Questions remain after newborn is found dead in a duffle bag in the snow at unstaffed firehouse on Near North Side
Crews at the facility were busy filling air tanks at other firehouses that morning and didn’t discover the infant until around 5 a.m. when they went outside to shovel snow.
Some key questions remain after a newborn was found dead in a duffle bag in the snow outside a Near North Side fire station that is often unstaffed.
With investigations continuing, it’s unclear how long the boy was left outside in freezing temperatures Saturday morning, or if the child was even alive when he was placed at the steps of the the Chicago Fire Department’s air mask services building at 1044 N. Orleans Street.
Crews at the facility were busy filling air tanks at other firehouses that morning and didn’t discover the infant until around 5 a.m. when they went out to shovel snow, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said.
The infant’s autopsy results remain inconclusive pending the completion of additional tests and the police investigation, a spokeswoman for the Cook County medical examiner’s office said Tuesday.
Chicago police had no updates in the case.
Part of the issue is that the child was left at an air supply maintenance facility that is not manned around the clock, Langford said. Its crew is often away at other firehouses servicing air tanks and masks, he said.
“They were in and out so much that morning that no one heard the doorbell,” he said.
There is a buzzer on the door and cameras in the area, but they are not the department’s, Langford said.
A “safe haven” sign is fixed to a side door of the station, out of view of the building’s main garage doors.
Langford said people need to understand that babies must be handed off in-person under the safe haven law.
The baby “has to be passed person-to-person... to a person or staff member,” Langford said. “If the person left the child there, and we don’t recommend it, and called 911 to say the child is there, somebody would’ve been dispatched right there.”
“We’re trying to make it clear that you have to make contact. Ringing a bell is not making contact. You have to physically see someone and hand the child over,” Langford said.
Dawn Geras, head of the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, said there is a good reason why the law stipulates that a baby be handed over to someone at a firehouse or police station or a hospital.
“That baby might need urgent medical care,” she said. “It makes no sense that you leave a baby out in freezing temperatures for any amount of time and expect them to survive.”
Under the law, infants 30 days or younger may be handed over, no questions asked.
Abandoned baby deaths have been declining since the law was passed in 2001, Geras said.
At least 144 babies have been brought to safe haven sites, Geras said. Another 87 were illegally abandoned, and 51% of those did not survive.
Nationally, 4,505 babies have been handed over under similar safe haven laws, Geras said.
“Our mantra has been, from day one, if we can save one baby, it’s worth it. And, along with that, when there’s another dead baby, we know our work is not done.”
Information on the law can be found on the Save Abandoned Baby Foundation’s website: https://saveabandonedbabies.org/
In the most recent case, Geras said there are many unknowns, including whether the baby was stillborn before it was left at the station.
“This is an opportunity to wake up the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois, the entire country, that baby safe haven laws exist to prevent this from happening,” Geras said.
Her foundation and the Chicago Fire Department both oppose “baby boxes,” where parents can leave their infants and authorities are alerted. There are dozens of the boxes in Indiana, and some people say they’re the next step in safe haven protections.
But Geras and Langford say they remove the in-person contact between a parent and whoever is taking the child, which can help connect the parent with services they might need.
At least two other babies have been abandoned in Chicago in recent years.
In May of 2019, a baby was left with his umbilical cord still attached atop a trash can in an alley in the 1700 block of North Keystone Avenue in Hermosa. A woman and daughter driving through the alley noticed him and rushed the infant to a fire station around the corner. The child survived and a 16-year-old was later identified as the mother.
In August of 2021, a newborn was found in a dresser drawer in an alley in Montclare on the Northwest Side. A garbage pick-up crew discovered the child in the 2300 block of North Oak Park Avenue. The child was listed in good condition.