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Infant found dead in Roseville park buried in quiet ceremony

Published: Thursday, Sep. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 19, 2013 - 8:38 pm

She was curled on her side, with a full head of dark hair and perfectly formed fingers and toes.

Why, Mike Monroe and Gerald Edwards wondered, would someone have left a newborn outdoors, dead inside a cardboard box amid a bramble of wild blackberries?

The two men, Roseville city workers who found the baby’s body on a warm July morning during a trash sweep in Saugstad Park, may never know the circumstances of the child’s birth and death. But they were so moved by her situation that they traveled on Wednesday morning to Auburn’s public cemetery, where a Placer County chaplain helped lay the mystery child to rest in a grassy patch of land reserved especially for babies.

Monroe and Edwards were among about two dozen people, many with no connection to the infant, who gathered around a tiny white casket draped with a spray of fresh flowers to pay their respects. Some carried small bouquets. One held a teddy bear.

“Father, she’s in your arms,” said Deputy Senior Chaplain Jim Milne, standing in dappled sunshine, a light breeze blowing through towering pines. He prayed for the baby, informally named Rosie by community members who learned of her story, and for her parents. “Help them through their guilt, their pain,” he said.

“Who is the mom?” he asked. “What is going on in her life?”

They are questions that police continue to ask as they investigate how “Baby Rosie” wound up bundled inside trash bags in a sealed Huggies box on the Monday after a long Fourth of July weekend. Her cause of death is still pending. No one has stepped forward to claim her.

Ryan Bal, a Roseville police detective, was among those who came to Wednesday’s service, partly in hopes of gathering clues.

“We would like the mother to come forward and talk with us,” Bal said. “It might offer some closure, so that she doesn’t have to worry or wonder whether someone will be knocking on her door in the future.”

If an autopsy concludes the baby was alive when she was born, the mother could be criminally charged, Bal said. If the child was stillborn, he said, charges are unlikely.

Jennifer Hodder, a Roseville resident and mother of a young daughter, decided to attend the baby’s service after reading news accounts of the case. She has asked herself what went through the mother’s mind after the birth.

“Maybe she was scared,” said Hodder, who arrived at the service clutching a small stuffed giraffe. “I don’t know. I just felt like I had to be here. I wanted to come and stand in today as this baby’s mom.”

Laurie Nelson of Auburn said she invited friends to join her in the cemetery Wednesday, but everyone was too busy. She came anyway, wanting to bear witness to an abandoned child’s burial.

“I just think it’s so important that someone is here to represent her,” Nelson said. “This morning, I went to my garden and found the best roses I could find.” She placed a small bundle of them next to the baby’s gravesite.

Cases like Baby Rosie’s gnaw at Victor Hipolito Jr. They are far more common, he said, than people might believe. Hipolito is an organizer of a group, new to the Sacramento area, that works with county governments to help bury abandoned and unidentified babies. On Saturday, Hipolito and the nonprofit Garden of Innocence group will lay to rest 20 infants at a Sacramento cemetery, after gathering their remains from coroner offices around the region.

The group, launched in San Diego in 1998, buries 50 to 100 such children each year at five “gardens,” serving 25 counties across the state, said founder Elissa Davey. Garden of Innocence also is branching out nationwide.

Some of the babies claimed by the group are stillborn and abandoned at hospitals, she said. Others were found in trash bins or along roadways. Rather than allow them to be cremated and buried anonymously in pauper’s graves, as many counties do after varying periods of time, the group names each child and gives each a memorial service, with a handmade urn and blanket, Beanie Babies toys and a poetry reading.

“Our goal is to make sure no child is put into an unmarked potter’s grave, forgotten and unloved,” Hipolito said.

By the time the group learned about Baby Rosie, Dennis Watt, chief deputy coroner in Placer County, already had made plans for a memorial service. Her casket was donated, as was the white dress in which she was buried. Officials are seeking donations for a headstone.

Monroe and Edwards, the Roseville city workers, came upon the infant’s body during a cleanup assignment in the early morning hours of July 8 at Saugstad Park, an area frequented by both recreationists and homeless campers. They expected to haul out old blankets, discarded clothing, empty beer cans and chip packages, things they toss into their truck and take to the dump.

As they were working alongside the bike trail, they spotted a brightly colored Huggies box, “sitting upright and taped nice and tight,” Monroe recalled. He lifted it. It was heavy, and its contents smelled rancid.

“My first thought was dirty diapers,” said Edwards.

Monroe used a key to cut through the tape. Inside the first box, he found a smaller Huggies box, also sealed tightly. That box held an object wrapped in black garbage bags.

“I looked closer, and I saw little fingers and feet,” Edwards said. “The baby had dark brown hair.”

He called 911, and soon officers were on the scene, taking fingerprints, documenting footprints, snapping pictures. Later, someone from the coroner’s office placed the baby in a van and drove away.

The next day, both men talked to counselors about what they had discovered.

“We find a lot of things out there,” said Monroe. “There are raccoons, dogs, feral cats. But nothing like this. Never a baby.”

On Wednesday, the men stood silently in their light blue City of Roseville work shirts, heads bowed and sunglasses shielding their eyes, as the chaplain concluded his remarks and invited those gathered to speak. Only one person raised her hand.

Ingrid Croissant-Huber stepped forward, then dropped to her knees beside Baby Rosie’s coffin.

“Dear little baby,” the Roseville woman said, tears glistening in her eyes. “God wants you back.

“I have four wonderful daughters,” she said in the gentlest of voices. “Now I have five. Now I have you.”

Call The Bee’s Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082. Follow her on Twitter @Cynthia_Hubert

Read more articles by Cynthia Hubert

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