Newborn found dead in duffel bag outside US fire station despite safe haven law
"Under no circumstances do we want people to leave children outside."
A newborn baby was found dead inside a duffel bag that was left outside of a fire station in the US over the weekend despite a safe haven law that is supposed to allow for the legal and safe abandonment of babies.
Crew at a firehouse in Chicago discovered the child at around 5am on Saturday morning as they went outside to shovel snow, the Chicago Tribune reports.
According to the publication, the duffel bag was found covered in snow. It is not yet clear how long the infant had been outside in the freezing temperatures.
Officials say there was no attempt to make contact with anyone inside the station, which would have avoided the baby spending a fatal amount of time outside in the cold, unbeknownst to the crew.
Following the devastating discovery, the Chicago Fire Department issued a reminder about the protocols surrounding the Illinois Safe Haven Law.
Passed in 2001, the legislation legally allows for newborns to be left with workers at designated safe places with "no questions asked and no judgement given", in order for the child to then be given up for adoption.
Per the law, parents may hand unharmed infants of up to 30 days old to workers at locations such as hospitals, emergency care facilities and police and fire stations without fear of legal prosecution.
It is in place to offer "a safe, legal option to unsafe infant abandonment," according to the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, which spent over a decade advocating for it.
"There is no risk to the person being identified or questioned. You can knock on the door, ring the bell, get our attention, we will take the child from you, thank you and you're on your way," Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford told the Tribune.
However, Langford stressed, it is essential that those wishing to leave a baby at one of these designated spaces make contact with someone inside in order for the system to work safely.
"Under no circumstances do we want people to leave children outside. And because of the way the Safe Haven Law is written, you may hand the child directly to a staff member or Fire Department member — they won't ask for your name, they won't ask for identification, they won't question you at all, which is far better than leaving the child outside," he added.
An investigation into the death of the child found on Saturday has now been launched. Officials say the parents of the late newborn will now potentially face charges.
"I'm speechless. I don't know what to say anymore... It makes me feel like I failed," Dawn Geras, founder and executive director of the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, told WLS Chicago.
"There was one other woman out there who didn't know about the law or how to use it, and because of that, there's a dead baby on the door steps of a fire house. It shouldn't happen.
"...Illegal abandonment has decreased over the years, but one baby death like this is way too many," she added. "People don't think about [the law] until something like this happens."