Kansas City sanitation workers made a horrifying discovery on their route Monday morning while tossing trash bags into their truck: They spotted the crushed remains of a baby.
The remains were partially visible under the truck’s tailgate. The workers immediately stopped what they were doing in the 2800 block of Campbell Street and called 911.
It’s unclear where along the route the truck picked up the infant, which appeared to be at least several weeks old, police said.
Detectives interviewed trash workers to find out how many times they had “cycled” the trash in the back of the truck, which could help them better pinpoint along the route where the baby may have been picked up. Detectives also were trying to confirm whether the truck was empty when the workers began their shift.
Trash trucks usually are emptied at the end of each shift, but some trash could be left in overnight if the truck wasn’t that full, said Sherri McIntyre, director of Public Works.
There are only homes along the route, no commercial trash bins, McIntyre said. City workers called police about 8:15 a.m. to report the find. The driver and two helpers had started their route at 7 a.m.
Police did not know the baby’s cause of death but were investigating the death as a homicide, said Capt. Tye Grant.
“We don’t know what happened yet,” he said. “But we’re handling it as a homicide until we learn differently.”
They have not said the baby’s race or whether it was a boy or girl.
Police blocked off the street, marked off the trash truck with crime tape and covered the back opening with a yellow tarp. About 10:10 a.m., detectives drove the truck away so investigators could examine its contents at a police facility.
Neighbors at first thought the trash truck had broken down when it stopped on the block.
“But when the police tape came out, I knew that didn’t seem good,” said Paul Scott.
Neighbor Dia Matthews said the person who threw the baby away “obviously needed help” and apparently didn’t know where to get it.
“It’s a sad event,” she said. “I hope they catch someone because this is an innocent life that’s been taken.”
The police department sent out a tweet that urged people to take advantage of the state’s Safe Haven law, which allows parents to drop off an unwanted baby at a police or fire station or hospital. The baby was discovered in the trash truck less than a mile away from Children’s Mercy Hospital and about three miles from the Central Patrol Division police station.
“No one EVER has to abandon a newborn,” the tweet read. “Bring it to us with no penalty.”
Under the current law, only parents of babies five days or younger are immune from prosecution. Parents who drop off older babies, from six days to 1 year old, face the possibility of prosecution although they could use the safe haven law as a defense in court.
That will change Aug. 28, when a new Missouri law goes into effect extending immunity from prosecution to include parents of babies 45 days or younger. The new law brings Missouri in line with Kansas’ law and other states that have such laws, said Debby Howland, coordinator of the Kansas City Child Abuse Roundtable Coalition.
Missouri’s current law was complicated and used confusing legal terms such as “affirmative defense,” Howland said.
“How many people understand what that means?” she said, adding that it would be even more confusing to young people facing a crisis.
That’s why Howland has been working for years to change Missouri’s law and educate the public about safe haven laws. She began her efforts in 2009 after a young Overland Park woman who had hidden her pregnancy from her parents panicked and put her newborn in a plastic bag in a refrigerator in her basement. The baby died and the mother was charged with murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“Those were two lives lost,” Howland said. “Those lives could have been saved if only this person had been aware of the law. That’s why it’s so important to get the word out.”
In a tweet Monday morning, Police Chief Darryl Forté praised “alert city workers” for averting “the possible cover up of the disposal of an infant’s body.”
Forté said later that he planned to remind officers working on the case to take advantage of counseling from the department’s employee assistance program because of the powerful emotional impact that accompanies such cases.
“We see a lot on this job, but it’s different when you’re talking about an innocent baby,” he said. “Over time, it can have an impact on you.”