Abandoned newborn had food, diapers and handmade cross

Perhaps no one will ever know for sure who fashioned the tiny cross from two pieces of a tree branch and a bit of pink yarn.

Was it the man who dropped off the unidentified 2-day-old baby boy at Fire Station No. 20? Or the baby's mother, who the man said had left the boy for good the day before?

But perhaps this small personal token, this simple handmade cross found inside a bag that also contained diapers and baby food, meant someone -- the man, the mother, some other relative -- had felt something for the baby.

The unidentified man handed the bag to a Clark County firefighter along with the baby, who was dressed in a blue Onesie and wrapped in a blanket, on April 16.

The man told the firefighter he was a relative of the baby's mother, that the mother had left the baby with him the day before, and that she "definitely wasn't coming back for the kid," said Battalion Chief Greg Cassell.

The man also told the firefighter he was incapable of taking care of the baby and that he had heard about a law that allowed him to leave the boy at the station.

He said little else, declining to provide the baby's name, or any identifying or other information, before leaving the station at 5710 Judson Ave., near Lake Mead and Nellis boulevards.

Cassell got the call from Station 20's on-duty captain at exactly noon that Friday.

"I've got one for you," the captain said.

"One" meant "a situation," Cassell explained.

The captain, who declined to be identified or interviewed, told Cassell a man had just dropped off a healthy baby boy.

Together, Cassell and the captain went through the Clark County Fire Department's four-page "standard operating procedures" concerning the "abandonment of a child less than 30 days old."

"We had to look it up," said Cassell, who has been with the department more than two decades.

It was, after all, the first time a child had been left with the Fire Department under Nevada's 9-year-old Safe Haven law, which allows for parents to legally leave a child within 30 days of birth at an emergency service provider.

Paramedics took the baby to University Medical Center, as the law dictates. Cassell contacted Clark County Child Protective Services, who met the baby there.

"I'm just glad it happened that way," Cassell said. "I'm glad he (the man) knew about the law."

Under the law, a parent will not suffer criminal consequences for dropping off their baby to emergency service providers, and does not have to answer questions from police.

The law also allows for the parent of a child to direct someone else to leave the child with an emergency provider, Child Protective Services spokeswoman Christine Skorupski said.

No charges will be pursued against the unidentified man who left the infant with firefighters, Las Vegas police said.

The baby has been released from the hospital and remains in protective custody, Skorupski said.

She wouldn't say whether the boy had been placed in foster care. But typically children "are either placed with relatives or in foster homes" as soon as possible, she said.

She wasn't sure when the child would be available for adoption under the Safe Haven law. But she said people wanting to adopt any child must go through a process to become a licensed foster parent and the child must live in the foster home at least six months before adoption.

"We do have foster homes that have expressed an interest in infants for adoption," she said. "When looking for placement we would go to those homes first."

Cassell and advocates of the Safe Haven law said what happened in the April 16 case was a textbook example of how the law was meant to work.

In 1998, Texas was the first state to pass a "safe haven" law aimed at protecting the lives of unwanted babies. Nevada's Safe Haven law was passed in 2001, shortly after two babies were found dead in trash bins in Las Vegas. Despite the law, babies have continued to be found abandoned in trash bins, restrooms and elsewhere in Clark County.

Dropping off the baby at a fire station is "a much better option than a Dumpster," Cassell said.

Tracey Johnson, with the nonprofit National Safe Haven Alliance based in Falls Church, Va., said every state has some version of a Safe Haven law on the books. According to her organization's records, Nevada has had one such baby drop-off before. That instance occurred in Northern Nevada, Johnson said.

Cassell praised firefighters from Station 20 for handling the situation professionally. The baby will have a better chance at a good life because the man chose to trust firefighters, he said.

"He did the right thing. At least he had the forethought to know he couldn't take care of the kid."

That decision, along with the tiny homemade cross, showed compassion, Cassell said. And it made for a day he and the firefighters involved won't soon forget.

"I've delivered dozens of babies," he said. "But I've never had one dropped off like that.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.