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Baby girl OK after being placed in 'safe haven' box at Missouri fire station

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A baby girl is doing well and will be put up for adoption after being surrendered at a “Safe Haven Baby Box” at a Missouri fire house, the fire chief said Monday.

The infant was dropped off Thursday at a Mehlville Fire District station in St. Louis County. The district installed the box in August. It was the first of its kind since passage of a Missouri law in 2021 allowing babies to be surrendered in a safe haven box — a secured incubator — if a parent is unable to care for the child.

Chief Brian Hendricks said the child was several hours old. After examination at the hospital, she was placed in state custody. It's unclear when she'll be adopted.

Hendricks, at a news conference, acknowledged the difficult decision the mother faced in dropping off the newborn.

“To that mother, I would like to say that we loved that baby and cared for that baby the minute we laid eyes on her and the minute we opened up that door,” Hendricks said.

He described the child's condition as “perfect.”

“She is just as healthy as could be.”

State Rep. Jim Murphy, a Republican from St. Louis County who sponsored the 2021 bill, said he was moved to tears as he phoned Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher and told him about the successful use of the box.

“I told him, ‘If we do nothing else, today we did something important. We saved a life,’" Murphy said.

Missouri law allows a Missouri parent to surrender a newborn up to 45 days old without prosecution, as long as it is done safely. The baby box law was meant to provide a convenient way to do it.

The box includes a nursery bed with heating and air conditioning. It is accessible through a small door on the exterior of a fire station or hospital. An alarm informs 911 that a baby has been placed in the box. The exterior door locks from the outside; personnel on the inside open an interior door to retrieve the infant.

Monica Kelsey, a former military member and firefighter whose birth mother abandoned her two hours after birth in 1973, launched Safe Haven Baby Boxes in Indiana in 2016. Boxes have opened in 15 states; about half of the 202 boxes are in Indiana.

The box at the Mehlville station is the only one in Missouri, but Hendricks said a second Mehlville station will add one by 2025. He said other Missouri districts are looking to add them as well.

Kelsey said 42 infants have been safely placed in boxes, and 147 others have been handed off to personnel at sites with boxes, since her organization began. She said that whenever it happens, her emotions are “a double-edged sword.”

“On the one hand a child is saved,” Kelsey said. “But on the other, you have a parent who is having the worst day of her life.”

Kelsey hopes to track down the Missouri mother — and thank her.

“She could have dumped her child in the trash or dumpster. But she didn't. She chose something better. Basically she said, ‘I want what’s best for my child an it's not me.' And that's heroic," Kelsey said.