Figurines and other items were in a bag with the body of infant pulled from the Mississippi River near Winona.
Angels may help criminal investigators answer how the body of a newborn girl ended up wrapped inside a canvas bag found floating on the Mississippi River.
Four porcelain angel figurines and a piece of jewelry were in the bag with the baby girl, who weighed about 7 pounds. She had been wrapped in a green T-shirt and then wrapped in two plastic bags before being placed in the cream-colored canvas tote. Investigators say the baby probably was born a day or two before she was found on the afternoon of Sept. 5, by a family boating on the river about 6 miles east of Winona.
Investigators have fielded dozens of calls from people offering information or tips. They've gone to hospitals and schools to talk to people who may have seen someone who was pregnant but then didn't see an infant after the pregnancy. "We had some promising leads the past week," said Drew Evans, senior special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. "But they didn't pan out."
So now investigators hope someone might recognize one of the angels, the T-shirt, the jewelry or the canvas bag and lead them to the baby's mom.
"It's imperative that we talk to the mother, and as quickly as possible," Evans said. "We believe it was likely an unattended or unassisted birth and we would like to identify her ... to make sure she has the medical treatment that she needs and make sure she has access to any mental health resources that she may need, and lastly talk to her about the birth process and how the baby ended up in the river."
Winona County Sheriff David Brand said he would like to bring closure to this case and bury the infant that some investigators are calling "Angel."
She's the fourth infant found in the Mississippi River in the past 12 years. The other three were found about 60 miles north of Winona near Red Wing: an infant girl in 1999, an infant boy in 2003 and another infant girl in 2007.
"We don't see any specific similarities to the others," Evans said. "But we can't say for sure that they're not related. We can't rule anything out."
Drew said the medical examiner has not yet determined the cause or manner of the baby's death.
"I was really stunned that this happened, especially when we have a law that allows anyone to bring in a baby to the hospital and leave," Brand said. "It's always very sad when you lose an infant that doesn't have a good start in life or a young person killed in an accident. You don't forget things like that."
Under Minnesota's "safe haven" law, a mother can walk into any hospital emergency room and safely and anonymously give up her unwanted newborn with no legal consequences. "There are resources in place," said Raegan Sipe, senior staff nurse at Hennepin County Medical Center.
Postpartum can be a very emotional time, Sipe said. "There are places to go. People who can help. [Mothers] won't be judged. ... And they don't have to resort to such drastic measures. ... It's tragic and makes me so sad" that this baby died, Sipe said.
Jill Carlton, a social worker with Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, has talked to parents who have been overwhelmed by the birth of a baby. "Having a newborn can be very difficult," she said. "And when you add on to a situation where there is no family support, or there's a financial aspect or maybe you add on some of their own personal mental health issues at a time when there's exhaustion and the hormones of being a new mom, it can all be so overwhelming."
There is no set profile of someone who might be pushed to the brink of abandoning or even killing a newborn, she said. "It can be anybody. And sometimes that's the scariest part about it because it can be hidden well. It can be a person you might think has it all together but has a mental health issue. Or maybe it's just someone who's not asking for help when they need it. It can affect anybody."
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788