Newborn Infant Found With Homeless Mom at Freezing Cold Bus Stop Is Dead

Tragic news out of Portland: A newborn infant found with his homeless mom at a freezing cold bus stop has been declared dead -- yet another heartbreaking example of the ravages of poverty. In a strange twist, though, local officials can't agree on whether the baby was stillborn or passed away after hours of exposure. But discrepancies and details aside, the story is just heartbreaking.


The Willamette Week reports that according to a police report, the baby was born in a transient camp near a Chuck E. Cheese's. Hours later, around 6 a.m. on January 9, Portland police officers responded to a 911 call at a bus stop. The baby had been outside since the birth, as a text message from the 911 operator to the officers read:

"Baby is conscious and breathing okay, but has been outside this entire time. Baby is ice cold."

After being rushed to Oregon Health & Science University Hospital, officers tried for 25 minutes to resuscitate the baby using CPR, but to no avail. The child was pronounced dead at 6:41 in the morning. 

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But was that the actual time of death? Because in his report, child abuse detective Robert Harley wrote that the Medical Examiner's Office said the baby was stillborn -- a significant disparity. Dr. David Sheridan, the pediatric emergency room physician who treated the baby, and Sarah Blackmon, the hospital's administrator on duty at the time, reportedly told the detective that they "didn't know how the medical examiner made that judgment," according to the Willamette Week.

Either way, of course, this poor child is gone -- but if exposure is to blame, then police will investigate (there would be no investigation in the case of a stillbirth). Unfortunately, the mother isn't in the position to be of much help. While being interviewed by officers at the hospital, the 34-year-old reportedly had trouble answering simple questions about her ethnicity and residence; she also told police that she'd gotten pregnant "by the miracle of Immaculate Conception." In his police report, Officer Justin Raphael wrote that "it was very clear to me she was mentally ill." 

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Such a sad story, not to mention an all too common one. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called the baby's passing "a damnation of our response" to mental illness in his city, but the truth is, this could have happened in any city in the country. As executive director of the Oregon Mental Health Consumers Association Kevin Fitts put it to the Willamette Week, "It's a tragedy that exemplifies the holes in our system" -- and there are far too many tragedies like this one happening every day. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 20 to 25 percent of the homeless population in America suffers from some form of severe mental illness (while only 6 percent of Americans overall are severely mentally ill). Many of those people are homeless because they're mentally ill and don't have the resources to get help. We desperately need more (and better) mental health services in this country, particularly for the uninsured and under-insured. Homelessness and mental illness go hand in hand. We can't address the first without addressing the second. 

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Per the Willamette Week, at this time, the location of the baby's mother is unclear; Harley's report stated that she would remain at the hospital for a "long-term evaluation," while Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson said the woman later faced a civil commitment hearing (the results are currently unknown).

And for now, the cause of the baby's death remains a mystery. Medical Examiner's Office investigator Tom Chappelle claimed the conflicting stories of how the baby died are the fault of OHSU officials (the hospital declined to comment on the Willamette Week's story). But one thing is clear: Whoever is to blame for the confusion, the real blame for what happened should be placed squarely on the system that failed this child, the child's mother, and so many others.

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