Reposted with permission.
I shed the coat, unbuttoned and rolled up my sleeves, loosened my tie and looked across the parking lot beyond the chain link fence to the mountains of debris. It would be a long day.
An employee sorting trash had made the discovery when the pungent smell of rotting flesh gagged him. He assumed it to be a dog or cat, but then he saw the arm.
He called for the lines to be shut down, pulled the bag from the conveyor, and notified a supervisor. But before the belts stopped, the trash near the remains had moved beyond his workstation and dropped into an enormous pile below. Finding evidence would now be near impossible.
My partner and I were joined by a coroner’s investigator. We donned latex gloves and went to work, sifting trash into the evening hours. We hoped to find something that would lead us to the origin of the trash. A place where a would-be mother held a dark secret.
With literally tons of trash to sort and search, there was no way to pinpoint a geographical area from where the trash had come. We were finding addresses from every region of the vast county and beyond.
We pulled log sheets and saw there were dozens of companies with trucks that had delivered trash during the previous twenty-four hours. The geographical boundaries were nearly non-existent, stretching to the outskirts of a hundred-mile radius. It became clear we were not going to determine from where the baby came through this search.
Our only hope would be the media. We issued a plea to the public for information. If anyone knew anything, we needed them to call. We included information about the Safely Surrendered Baby Law, which states there are no questions asked of any parent or grandparent who leaves an unwanted baby at a fire station or hospital within 72 hours of birth. It was a plea of sorts, maybe a public service announcement, a message to the frightened and confused.
We never received a single phone call.
The next day, my fortieth birthday, I attended the postmortem examination of the infant’s remains, where it was determined she died within hours of birth and took at least one breath. Which means she wasn’t stillborn; this was a case of murder. Mode of death: homicide. Manner of death: suffocation.
As the autopsy concluded, I stood inches from the cold, stainless steel table, staring at her delicate little body. It occurred to me how few of us are cursed with the knowledge of these horrific incidents of violence against children. I thought of the man who, day after day, silently sifts through the waste of others for minimum wage, and I wondered how the discovery of Baby Doe affected him. I was accustomed to death, and it did a number on me.
I thought about my fortieth birthday, something that to some is a big deal. To me, the day meant nothing, and the thought of a celebration repulsed me. I’d purposely put in a long day so there would be nothing planned. Maybe I’d have a drink later, but it wouldn’t be a celebratory one.
There is a place in Riverside County, California, where abandoned and otherwise forgotten children are given a name, a memorial service, and a final resting place. Created in 1996 by Debi Faris, who was inspired by the story of a murdered, unnamed child, it is now the final resting place for more than a hundred discarded souls. It is appropriately called the Garden of Angels.
Believing these little ones were called to heaven as angels is the only way I can make sense of their tragic deaths. May they rest in peace.