The gas station in West Branch, Iowa, where a missing newborn, below, was found. Police said Kayden Powell was found after they heard crying. The child was swaddled in blankets inside a tote bin left outside the station. Police said he was in excellent health.
Police Chief Mike Horihan of West Branch, Iowa, canceled his time off and got dressed for a cold, grim day of searching the interstate. Long underwear. Boots. A heavy jacket. The night before, the temperature had dropped to 11 below zero, a record-setting low in eastern Iowa.
Out there, somewhere in that cold, was a 6-day-old baby.
“There was no mention of a quitting time or a giving-up time. I had the impression that everyone was going to be looking until we had exhausted all possibilities,” Horihan said. He is the chief of West Branch’s three-man police department.
This was Friday morning. Early on Thursday, a newborn baby had been kidnapped in Beloit, Wis., allegedly by his aunt. Police had found the aunt, pulled over at a gas station in West Branch. But she didn’t have the baby, and she denied knowing where he was. So now, more than 24 hours later, police officers and FBI agents were still retracing her route, looking for something terrible: a bundle in a dumpster or snowy footprints leading into the long grass along the highway.
“Realistically, we thought the baby could have been anywhere between Wisconsin and here,” Horihan said in a telephone interview.
That was more than 170 miles, of which he was to search a stretch on the north side of Interstate 80.
Before this job, Horihan spent 30-plus years in the Iowa State Patrol, searching highways for runaways or suspects or crime victims.
He was rarely the guy who found them. And he knew that they were never in the first place you looked.
This one was in the first place he looked.
It was a BP gas station, the first thing you came to when you got off the highway in West Branch. Behind the station, there was a stack of recycling bins — and a gray-brown plastic tote bin.
Frost on the lid
“The lid was on it. There was frost on the lid,” Horihan said. He opened the lid and saw a black blanket inside. This was not a load of recycling.
“It was sending up red flags. So I went back into the station. I didn’t open it up any further. And I said to the owner, I says, ‘Is this your container?’ He says, ‘No, I’ve never seen this before in my life.’ ”
“I’m thinking, oh, no,” Horihan said.
It looked like he had found the baby, but far too late. The container was sealed. It had been out there all night.
Horihan went back to the bin and carefully opened the lid. “I was opening that container like I was trying to preserve evidence,” he said.
Once the lid was off, he saw that the black blanket inside lay on top of a deep pile of other blankets. Then Horihan heard something.
“It was just a — just a — more than a whimper. I don’t know how to duplicate it without sounding like an idiot. But it was loud enough so that you heard it,” Horihan said.