Published Feb. 1, 2013

Copyright by The Colorado Springs Gazette

SIDE STREETS: Sometimes, a life starts badly and there just isn’t a happy ending

By Bill Vogrin

In December, news broke of a newborn found abandoned near a trash bin at a north side apartment complex.

A Gazette story and photo about the discovery of a baby in a trash can in 1991. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

It turned out the 17-year-old mother had concocted the story. The child was never abandoned.

It reminded me of another baby found in the trash in the Stratton Meadows neighborhood south of downtown Colorado Springs in October 1991.

That baby would be 21 now. I wondered what happened to the child and set out to find her.

At first, it seemed the story had a happy ending.

But then it took a sad, ugly twist.

For a time, I never thought I’d find the young woman who started life in a trash can behind her family’s home. The Gazette never identified the child, her 15-year-old mother, her 19-year-old father or anyone else.

I located an attorney, now retired, who represented the mother in a fight for custody after the child was taken by social service workers. But he couldn’t remember much.

Finally, I put out a call on social media. Within minutes I heard from retired firefighter Tim Casey who was the medic on the truck that responded to a call for help the morning of Oct. 1, 1991.

Casey vividly recalled the day. First came the call that a female student was hemorrhaging at Harrison High School. The responding firefighters discovered the girl had given birth that morning. Another truck — Casey’s rig — was sent to her home with orders to look in the trash can for the baby.

“It was a beautiful day,” Casey said. “As a couple of guys chased off the dogs in the yard, I went over and opened the trash can.

“Inside was a neatly rolled plastic trash bag. I picked the bag up, got it to my shoulder height and the baby cried inside the bag.”

The sound shocked Casey, who nearly dropped the child. He was expecting to find just a body, not a living, breathing, crying infant.

“There was a beautiful little blonde girl inside the bag,” he said. “I opened my shirt, shoved her inside to get her warm and ran to the truck.”

An ambulance delivered the child to a hospital and Casey was called to sign her birth certificate as the first professional to make contact with the baby.

Later he learned the mother was a scared teen who hid her pregnancy from her family and friends then disposed of the baby believing she was stillborn.

“She thought the baby was dead,” Casey said. “And nobody had any idea she was pregnant.”

The incident was so unusual in Casey’s career that he later wrote about in a Jan. 30, 2012, entry in his blog.

An odd coincidence further tied Casey to the child: The driver on the fire truck that day was the uncle of the teen mother. Through the uncle, Casey learned the mother eventually married the father. They’d had a couple more children together and were able to regain custody of their first child. They even bought a house around the corner from her parents.

Then, in 2009, Casey received an email from the uncle.

“It had a photo of a beautiful girl in her cap and gown,” Casey said. “The email asked if I recognized the girl.

“The next sentence said: You pulled her out of a trash can 18 years ago.”

It would have been the perfect ending to a story that started as a near tragedy.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end of the story.

About the same time as the graduation, the girl’s father surfaced in The Gazette in a “Crime Stoppers” feature.

There was his mugshot and a description of why authorities were offering $1,000 for information leading to his arrest. His alleged crime: suspicion of sexual assault on a child.

Yes, that child.

In fact, the father pleaded guilty to sexual battery on his daughter.

I spoke to the mother, who is heartbroken. She’d like the world to know she never meant to harm her newborn daughter. And she said she would have done anything to protect her from the father, if she’d known.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” she said in a quiet voice, declining to reveal any more about her daughter.

Casey, now an author and lecturer, was shocked and saddened when I told him what I learned. He said he almost wishes he didn’t know the rest of the story.

“It’s just horrid,” he said. “I guess there aren’t always happy endings in life.”