A newborn baby was found dead in a duffel bag left outside a Chicago firehouse over the weekend, and authorities say firefighters didn’t even realize the boy was there until they went out to shovel snow.
“They were in and out so much that morning that no one heard the doorbell,” Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford was quoted saying by the Chicago Sun-Times. He noted that the firehouse on the Near North Side is often unstaffed and is used as an air supply maintenance facility, meaning crew members are usually away servicing supplies at other firehouses.
It was not immediately clear how long the newborn was outside, where he was found in a duffel bag in the snow amid freezing temperatures. The Chicago Fire Department said crews discovered the boy at about 5 a.m. that morning.
It was also not clear if he was alive when he was placed outside the firehouse, but the building does feature a “safe haven” sign on a side door.
The law stipulates that babies under 30 days old can be handed over to hospitals, police, or fire stations if the parents feel they must surrender the child to a safer environment. But they have to be handed over directly to staff, unlike “baby boxes,” which are in use in parts of states like Indiana and contain silent alarms to notify first responders.
Langford said that for the “safe haven” law to work, the child “has to be passed person-to-person.”
“We’re trying to make it clear that you have to make contact. Ringing a bell is not making contact. You have to physically see someone and hand the child over,” he said, adding that whoever left the baby should have called 911 to report they were leaving it.
“If the baby was placed there alive, that baby froze to death,” Dawn Geras, head of the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, told CBS News. “It’s Chicago. It gets cold at night. You can’t leave a baby out to the elements.”
“It’s a tragedy that didn’t have to happen,” Geras said. “And it was so close.”
She said the death should serve as a wake-up call to the whole country, “that baby safe-haven laws exist to prevent this from happening.”
An autopsy that was conducted Sunday has been deemed inconclusive until the results of additional tests come back. An investigation into the circumstances of the baby’s death is continuing. Police said Monday that they are hoping surveillance footage can help them find the person who left the boy.