No one knows why a mother stuffed her newborn infant into a trash bag and discarded him last week in a wooded area of Centreville off Braddock Road. But local police are doing their best to find out.
"I've got children, and I can't conceive of someone doing something like this," said Lt. Bruce Guth, a homicide supervisor with the Fairfax County Police Department's Major Crimes Division. "But there are all kinds of people with issues and problems. My guess is somebody panicked and made the wrong decision."
He was one of about 10 police officers and detectives canvassing two Centreville neighborhoods, Monday evening, in an attempt to inform residents about what happened and glean whatever information they could get.
The baby was a boy, and authorities believe he was abandoned a few days prior to being discovered. He was wrapped in a woman's black T-shirt, size petite, with pink lettering saying, "Drop the chocolate, and nobody gets hurt!"
The infant's remains were found Saturday, June 3, around 1:30 p.m., in a small patch of woods behind the 5800 block of Westwater Court, a townhouse community in Little Rocky Run. It's about a block away from Little Rocky Run Circle.
"People smelled something and thought it was gas, so they had a gas-company employee come out," said police spokeswoman Mary Mulrenan. "He found a bag and thought a dead animal was inside, so he called the police."
When police responded, it was discovered that the bag contained the remains of a baby. But the body was so badly decomposed that its race is still unknown. An autopsy was performed Monday morning but, said Mulrenan, "We don't know whether the baby was left there alive or dead."
She said police want people to know that "a parent, within 14 days of delivery, can drop off a baby at a fire and rescue station with an EMT — and all Fairfax County fire stations have EMTs. Or they can do so at a 24-hour, emergency department of a hospital, and not face criminal charges."
Anyone with information about the baby or its mother — or who might have seen anything suspicious in the neighborhood — is asked to call Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (3477) or police at 703-691-2131. They may also contact Det. Robert Bond at 703-246-4057 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A $1,000 reward will be paid for information leading to an arrest and indictment. Callers never have to give their names, and information is kept confidential.
"SOMEONE'S got to know something," said Guth. "Our concern isn't in making an arrest; it's in finding out the mother's situation. We want her to give us a call so we can help her."
Monday night, two patrol officers from the Sully District Station and some eight detectives from the Major Crimes Division canvassed people living in The Elms apartments, across Braddock Road from the Old Centreville Crossing Shopping Center. Homes there border and overlook the grassy, wooded area where the baby was found.
They also went door-to-door on Westwater Court, passing out flyers about the incident and asking the residents for help. At the Elms, MPO J.S. Tuller said, "We're trying to find out who resides in [these apartments], how many occupants there are in each one and if a roommate is unaccounted for."
"We want to know if they knew someone recently pregnant or came into contact with someone who was emotional and upset," he continued. "What seems ordinary to somebody might be just what we're looking for. We're also hoping somebody will recognize the T-shirt."
Guth said police are trying to find "someone who knows anyone who said she had a baby, but something tragic happened to it. Maybe someone was hiding the pregnancy."
Whatever the case may be, he said, "We hope to find out what happened and ultimately prevent this from happening again. There are plenty of organizations willing to take care of a baby that people are unable to take care of property."
Possibly, said Guth, someone might know somebody who hasn't shown up for work or school recently, whose appearance has changed or who's lost weight in a short period of time. He also believes whoever did leave the infant "would have to be familiar with the neighborhood. Most people go where they're comfortable, and it's kind of isolated, down on the pathway [behind those townhouses]."
He said police were still waiting for the results of pathology reports to learn what caused the baby's death. "We want to know why it was disposed of in this particular place and at this time — and why someone would take this drastic step of disposing of a baby in this way," said Guth. "It's just a matter of someone coming forth and helping us resolve this as soon as possible."
HE SAID most residents police talked to Monday night were hearing about the incident for the first time. But not everyone. A female resident of The Elms who's lived there three years said she was "grossed out and disgusted" by the whole thing. "My boyfriend Ben was outside Saturday night and saw all the cops," she said.
Russell Johnson has been a resident for a year and said police gave him a flyer and a business card. "I didn't know it was right where I lived," he said. "I'm speechless; there's not too much you can say about something like that. I'll just keep my ears to the ground, I guess."
Jerry Owens, a 28-year resident, said it's normally a quiet neighborhood so the discovery was definitely out of the ordinary. "It is disturbing," said Ron Hart, who just moved there a month ago.
Meanwhile, on Westwater Court, a woman named Donna out walking her puppy said Monday night was the first she'd heard about the dead baby. "I'm shocked; it's kind of unbelievable," she said. "I wouldn't expect it to happen in my own neighborhood."
June Gonzalez, a seven-year resident, said her street is usually peaceful and pleasant, with lots of children outside playing. "We noticed the police out here Saturday afternoon, and the only thing they'd tell us was that they'd found some remains," she said. When she and her neighbors learned about the infant, said Gonzalez, their reaction was one of shock and horror.
"There are so many options available to people these days, there's no excuse [to do such a thing]," she said. "My guess would be it was a young, scared teen. It's just tragic."
Noting that Braddock Road runs right behind the woods where the baby was found, Gonzalez didn't believe the mother necessarily had to be someone from the local community. "That's a pretty busy road," she said. "Anyone could have hopped out and left it."
She has two daughters, 12 and 15, and says she's "instilled in them that there's nothing they can't come and talk to me about. Kids are going to make mistakes, but they've got to know they can come to you and fix them."