Friday, December 15, 2006

The Shoebox

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) _ A nanny accused of dumping her newborn son in a trash bin at a Long Island Rail Road station in Hicksville last month was arraigned Friday on a second-degree murder charge.

Erma Stephens, 34, of Brooklyn _ who worked as a nanny for a family in Woodbury _ was arrested Thursday night at the Woodbury home after detectives reviewing video surveillance tapes at the train station allegedly saw her tossing the dead child in the trash bin, said Detective Sgt. Richard Laursen of the Nassau County homicide squad.

The child _ a full-term baby boy _ was born alive in the woman's apartment in Brooklyn on Nov. 26, Laursen said.

The following day, Stephens was returning to her job as a live-in nanny when she was seen placing a plastic bag inside the trash bin at the Hicksville station, Laursen said.

Police say the infant was inside a shoe box in the plastic bag that was discarded in the trash bin. The child was already dead at that point from suffocation, but police did not say exactly when he died.
Every week, these awful stories, all different, yet all the same. This is the call that makes even hardened cops cry. When I lived in Rahway, a tragedy that really broke everyone's hearts was the discovery of dead newborn in an old car behind an occupied house by the railroad. You could see the place from one end of the train station platform. This spot was two blocks from fire dept. headquarters around one corner, two from city hall & police headquarters around the other, & less than a block from a 24 hour taxi dispatcher at the train station. Under Jersey's "No shame. No blame. No names." law (Safe Haven Infant Protection Act) the mother could have walked into the police station, handed it to the duty officer, & walked out once it had been determined the baby was not abused, giving no more information than she was was willing to reveal. Every cop, every firefighter, every EMT knows the law. Assuming the baby was abandoned at night, the mother (or whoever did it) could have wrapped up the infant & left it just about anyplace it could be seen, even in the doorway of the mayor's nearby jewelry store, made an anonymous phone call to 911, or summoned a taxi to pick it up. Confused, sick, weak, drug-addled, desperate, most likely a young adolescent. Still, one has to imagine a person so out-of-it, so detached from reality, that they can't look at a helpless baby & think, "I'm really fucked up, but this bahy deserves a chance." One doesn't want to imagine it.

New Jersey's law designates police stations & hospital emergency rooms as safe havens. Other states allow for locations such as firehouses. Statistically, Safe Haven Laws are not obvious successes, but those statistics include only recorded Safe Haven drop-offs. A better measurement is the ratio of babies found alive compared to those not. A New York fire captain speaking on TV last week at the funeral for abandoned dead infant said he believed the laws were helping a lot because they are reminders that a "safe haven" is anywhere a baby will be quickly found, in the old tradition of leaving newborns at the door of the church rectory, & so a living inflant found in McDonald's, though not the best possible circumstance, is good enough. The utter senselessness, that it never has to happen.

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