Action Alert from Heartbeat International
GREENVILLE, S.C. – A South Carolina woman accused of giving birth in an arena toilet and leaving her baby to die didn't know she was pregnant and can't remember the birth, her mother told a judge Wednesday.
"She has not shown any signs of being pregnant whatsoever," Anita McAuliffe said during a bond hearing for her daughter, Jessica Blackham.
Blackham, 24, felt ill during a circus performance and went to the arena's bathroom, McAuliffe said. She told the judge that her daughter can't remember what happened next and later went to a hospital, where she was treated for bleeding.
Blackham, who is also mother to a 4-year-old child, gave birth to the 6-pound boy and left him in the toilet's cold water Friday night, police said.
Blackham was charged Tuesday with one count of felony child abuse and one count of unlawful neglect toward a child. Her bond was set at $30,000. If convicted of both charges, she could face up to 30 years in prison.
Arena workers found the asphyxiating child and called authorities. The infant, now in the care of the state Department of Social Services, was in good condition at a hospital.
Prosecutor Walt Wilkins said the charges are serious because the infant was abandoned for at least 90 minutes.
"During that time a newborn needs to be in a warm atmosphere," said Wilkins, who Blackham has no criminal record.
Authorities would not discuss the identity of the infant's father. Blackham is married but is estranged from her husband, McAuliffe said.
The baby was found suffering from hypothermia, which an expert said is one of the biggest risks for babies born away from medical care. The condition could lead to infection or breathing problems if not treated quickly.
"When a baby is moist and has exposure of its skin to the air, it will lose heat very rapidly," said Dr. Christopher Robinson, a fetal and maternal medicine professor at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Roger Newton, president and general manager of the 13-year-old Bi-Lo Center, said he'd never encountered anything like this in his 33 years of managing arenas from Ottawa, Canada, to Miami. He said the cleaning crew members deserved high praise.
"They did everything they should have, and we're very proud of them," he said.
The custodians said they found the infant with his feet in the water and head resting on the toilet rim.
"I never expected something like that to happen in my life — a baby in the toilet," Eder Serrano, 32, said during a news conference Wednesday. "But God gave me the strength to handle that."
Serrano called 911 while a co-worker, Marco Calle, pulled the baby from the toilet and used a finger to pull mucus from the boy's mouth.
Following instructions from operators, Calle, 41, wrapped the baby in a towel and used a piece of string to cut the boy's umbilical cord.
Both men have children. Calle said he felt relieved when he heard Tuesday it appeared the boy would survive.
"I'm happy because he is alive," Calle said, with a big smile.