Residents of an Oildale neighborhood where a dead newborn was discovered in a trash can early Friday were stunned that anyone would be so cruel to an infant.
“Anybody would have helped that woman — if it was a woman — I guess you never know. She could have knocked on any door here, or there’s a church on the corner,” said Melissa Henrichs, 37, who has two daughters, ages 3 and 17.
A homeowner who was retrieving a trash can from the curb Friday morning felt something inside and was horrified to find a dead newborn baby upon opening the lid.
He immediately called the Kern County Sheriff’s Office — at 6:11 a.m. — and detectives came to his home in the 500 block of Beardsley Avenue, which is just west of South Oildale Drive.
“I can’t imagine who would do something like that,” said the homeowner, 53-year-old Reggie Groves.
Groves was cleaning house and went outside to pull in his trash can when he felt something in it, the father of five, grandfather of 15 and soon-to-be grandpa of two more told The Californian Friday.
He looked in but wasn’t sure what he was seeing because his vision is poor.
“I thought maybe it was a sick joke, a baby doll or something,” he said.
Groves asked his daughter to have a look, and she confirmed that it was a real baby girl with an umbilical cord attached.
The baby was naked and black due to decay, burning or bruising, he said, and had a head wound.
“It was kind of a shock,” Groves said.
Trash collection day in the neighborhood is Wednesday.
Groves said he believes the baby was put in the trash can late Thursday or overnight because a neighbor happened to have checked his can when she was bringing in her own earlier Thursday and it was empty.
“There was nothing in it but the baby,” he said.
Groves eventually choked back tears, cut the interview short and went inside his home.
Rick Reed, 41, is Groves’ neighbor. He said his wife checked Groves’ can to make sure it was empty as she was retrieving theirs from the curb Thursday.
Reed said he couldn’t believe it when he learned the next day that someone had put a baby inside.
“It really surprised me that no one took advantage of (a law allowing people to safely surrender newborns),” he said. “That’s what it’s for — no questions asked. There’s a fire station right down the street and a hospital nearby. It’s crazy.”
Under state law, any unwanted baby can be surrendered at any hospital emergency room or fire station within 72 hours of the child’s birth with no consequences.
Mothers who change their minds have up to 14 days to reclaim their infant without fear of retribution.
The closest safe surrender location, a fire station, is less than a mile from where the baby was found. The fire station is at 101 Roberts Lane.
That station was one of the first Kern County locations where someone took a baby after California’s Safely Surrendered Baby Law passed in 2001.
To date, 33 babies have been safely surrendered locally since the Kern County Department of Human Services started tracking those handovers in 2006.
That includes three infants surrendered this year.
Statewide, 493 babies were handed over between Jan. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2012, according to the California Department of Social Services.
Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall said officials have tried to get the word out about the law through public service announcements and community outreach, but some troubled mothers apparently either don’t know about it or are afraid to use it.
“We don’t judge the mothers,” he said. “Our only concern is to make sure that baby is healthy and safe and the mother has some time to make some difficult decisions. There should be no fear of any problems.”
Authorities don’t know if the baby found Friday was alive when it was dumped and declined to confirm its gender. The infant appeared full-term and no more than several days old, and it did not appear the body had been in the trash can for more than one to two days, said Kern County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ray Pruitt.
Nearly a dozen deputies and detectives spent several hours going door to door to interview neighbors Friday morning.
Neither Groves nor Reed could think of anyone on their street who was pregnant.
Investigators are asking for the public’s help with any additional information about the baby’s death and abandonment.
Sue Foster, 57, lives in an apartment building on the corner of Beardsley Avenue and South Oildale Drive. She was alarmed when she arrived home from work Friday morning to find a throng of sheriff’s cars and television news vans on her street.
Upon learning why they were there, she was so upset she said she didn’t think she’d be able to sleep after working overnight.
“Why couldn't they have put the baby in a basket and left it on a church doorstep like in the Old Testament days?” she asked. “There are plenty of options. You don’t throw a baby away like it’s a piece of trash.”