published Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Abandoned babies in Marion County are growing up

Marion County authorities say they never developed any good leads in cold-case files on two babies abandoned in 2006 and 2009, but both of those children found homes.

“They both were adopted by good families, and they’re doing well,” Marion County Sheriff Ronnie “Bo” Burnett said last week.

Authorities tried to find the birth mothers but had little to go on, he said.

“There were no good leads on either case. We had some leads early on, but nothing ever materialized,” he said.

Authorities now want to let the children lead normal lives with their adoptive families, he said.

“We’re not actively doing anything now because the situation has turned out great,” he said.

That outcome was anything but certain when the babies were left to chance discoveries by good Samaritans.

About 7 a.m. on Aug. 23, 2006, bus driver Brenda Pickett found a blanket-wrapped newborn in a laundry basket at the Griffith Creek Head Start program on state Highway 108, newspaper archives show.

The baby, believed to be just hours old, was wearing a white T-shirt from First Baptist Concord Church in Knoxville. The words “Adventure Kids, First Baptist Concord, Summer Days 2003” were printed on the left chest and a full-color scene with animals was on the back.

After midnight on Feb. 14, 2009, brothers and local volunteer firefighters Ben and Clay Lewis found a month-old boy on the porch of Bibleway Baptist Church on Marion County’s Suck Creek Mountain.

Ben Lewis said he had stepped outside during a card game — where it was 36 degrees — and heard a baby’s cry. He got his brother to help find the source.

Clay Lewis said then that the infant “had a little Onesie on, lying on top of two blankets, had a pacifier and one sock. It was awful.”

Lewis said he’s kept tabs on the “little feller.”

“I reckon he’s healthy and fine and he’s got everything he needed. I’ve seen pictures of him,” Lewis said recently. “I’m glad to see the little man’s got him a good place to grow up.”

Burnett said he is not as familiar with the family who adopted the little boy, but he has seen the baby girl recently.

“She’s a typical little girl, playing, having a good time playing with other kids,” he said.

The adoptions took “quite a while” but both children now have permanent families, he said.

Under Tennessee’s safe haven law, a person can turn an infant less than 72 hours old over to personnel at a hospital or birthing clinic, community health clinic or outpatient, walk-in clinic without criminal liability.

Dawn Geras, president of the Illinois-based Save Abandoned Babies Foundation and vice president of the National Safe Haven Alliance, said a happy adoption is the aim of safe haven laws in every state.

In recent years, Illinois has tweaked its safe haven law to extend it from seven to 30 days and to make college campuses safe havens for mothers who can’t care for their babies, she said.

Geras said babies are most often abandoned by young, unmarried, upper-class women.

Illegally abandoned babies can become ensnared in investigations as they start growing up in state care, while babies relinquished under safe haven laws are more easily adopted because they were legally turned over to authorities, she said.

“The parent that uses the safe haven law is not a bad parent,” she said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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