(OSV News) — Only an hour old and weighing 6 and a half pounds, Angel Grace LNU announced her arrival at approximately 1 a.m. Jan. 28 on a 50-degree night in a wooded area in Mulberry, Florida. She was wrapped in a blanket, placenta still attached and placed next to the chain link fence of the adjacent mobile home park.
“At about midnight I heard cats fighting and then about an hour later about one o’clock I heard a noise — it sounded like a baby crying, and I went out with my husband to look in the woods,” explained Magdalena Gregorio Ordonez, a mother of three from Guatemala whose mobile home backs up to the fence. “We used the flashlight on my phone and found what was making the noise. I called 911. It was cold outside. We were concerned for the baby and very sad.”
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office responded to the call and Angel Grace LNU was transported to a hospital. She is in the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families. The Sheriff’s Office is making every effort to locate the baby’s mother. They responded immediately with drones, air surveillance and bloodhounds. They have taken DNA samplings, gone door-to-door and are using other undisclosed methods.
“This is one of those situations in a law officer’s career that sticks with them forever,” said Brian Bruchey, public information officer and former patrol deputy serving since 2007. “I have a son, and this kind of call touches home. It’s tough to see defenseless victims like a baby. The most important thing is the baby is healthy; she has just a few insect bites and is now safe.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd named the baby Angel Grace LNU because, he said, “she’s as beautiful as an angel, it’s by the grace of God she is not dead, and LNU is ‘last name unknown.'”
“The state has a Safe Haven law,” Bruchey explained, “and it’s good that there is a program like A Safe Haven for Newborns — that if a mother can’t take care of a baby there is a Safe Haven: fire and police stations, hospitals — wherever the Safe Haven sign is posted — a mother can drop off her baby to a staff person and there are no questions asked.”
“In this case, we don’t know the circumstances. It’s unfortunate the mother didn’t get the help she needed ahead of time because she couldn’t imagine the direction it went,” he told OSV News. “Right now, we don’t know the motivation. We wish the mother would have done it differently. Maybe she was the victim of human trafficking. There is a homeless camp nearby, and this is a migrant community. We don’t know yet, but we’re working on it.”
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami said, “We can imagine the desperation that moves a mother to abandon her child. We thank God that A Safe Haven for Newborns is available. But there can be more options between abortion and abandonment.”
“Walking with Moms in Need is a way to accompany mothers in crises,” he said, referring to a U.S. bishops’ parish-based pro-life initiative. “A helping hand, a listening ear can help reveal to a despairing mother a ray of hope for a better tomorrow both for herself and her child.”
All 50 states and several other countries have safe haven laws, offering mothers protection from prosecution for relinquishing their newborns in a safe manner. Twelve states offer professional training for a Safe Haven program, and there are programs already in place in several states.
Nick Silverio, founder of Florida’s A Safe Haven for Newborns organization explained that in the period 2000 to 2021 nationally, 1,639 babies were recorded abandoned, but during that same timeframe, 4,709 were relinquished to Safe Havens giving them an opportunity to live.
“This did not have to happen,” Silverio said. “Here in Florida, not only have we saved 360 precious newborns and assisted with seven in other states and one in Honduras, but we have also assisted over 6,000 women in their time of need/crisis.”
“A Safe Haven for Newborns enriches my soul every single day,” he told OSV News. “So many wonderful life-changing stories — the thousands of moms we helped, hundreds of babies that now have a future and the hopes and dreams of a forever family fulfilled. What is more important and meaningful in life than saving a life, especially of a precious, innocent child?”
In March 2020, simultaneous with the pandemic, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a new pro-life initiative called Walking with Moms in Need.
“It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time,” said Kat Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communication at the USCCB. “Children home from school, the challenges of work, Moms needed support both financially and emotionally more than ever. The Catholic Church is here for Moms in Need. We want every person in every parish to know how to help, where to refer, how to support and befriend Moms in Need. We want people to know that in addition to walking with moms, we want more parishioners to see the vision of what it is to serve the Gospel of life.”
Laura Dodson writes for OSV News from Florida.
Walking with Moms in Need
The 25th anniversary by St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”) was the inspiration for the initiative Walking with Moms in Need by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops through its Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
It is a national movement where Catholic churches across the country focus on the needs of vulnerable women and their children,” explained Kat Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communication at the USCCB. “We have 17,000 parishes in the U.S. Everyone in the parish should know where to refer and how to help a pregnant woman in need.”
All of the resources necessary for parishes to implement the process of “walking in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women in need are available for free download on the website, walkingwithmoms.com, and include: tools such as an introductory webinar, inventory of local resources, bulletin inserts, a parish action guide and a sample timeline; ideas for improving parish responses; prayers for building a culture of life and a civilization of love; and reflections on the teachings of Evangelium Vitae and Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) and his encyclical Laudato Si’ (“On Care for Our Common Home”).
All the resources are available for free download, and if you would like to contact Talalas, take “the pledge to walk with moms in need” to be directed to her email.
“Research shows that a large number of women who are seeking abortion are below the poverty line and lack even the emotional support to bear a child,” Talalas continued.
Perhaps this was the case of the mother of baby Angel Grace LNU, who carried her baby to term but then abandoned the newborn in Polk County, Florida, Jan. 28.
“Our goal is to offer access to financial support, but also friendship,” Talalas told OSV News. “We are part of a community and we can do that. We are with every woman regardless of religion — so no woman falls through the cracks.”
Talalas pointed out that at this time of abortion and pro-life issues dominating the news that many people know the Catholic Church is pro-life, but what they may not know is that it also provides more institutional and financial resources than any other institution or agency outside of the U.S. government.
“People ask, ‘Where is the Church? What is the Church doing about it?'” Talalas said. “We want women facing challenging pregnancies to see the Church as a place to find help. We provide loving support and have the ability to share not only our faith but the rich resources and service of our Church.”
A Safe Haven for Newborns
Patricia Gallardo Lobaina has been working for A Safe Haven for Newborns in Florida for almost four years and was devastated by the news of an abandoned baby.
“The mother of Angel Grace,” Lobaina said, “how can we put into words — alone and terrified? I can’t imagine it. What if she didn’t abandon the baby? What if it was taken from her? We don’t know. I wish she knew about us: that we would not judge her, that we do not charge for any of our services, and (that we) help as many women (as) humanly possible — with the help of God, of course.”
Following the passage of the Florida Safe Haven Law in 2000, Nick Silverio established the Gloria M. Silverio Foundation A Safe Haven for Newborns in memory of his wife, Gloria. It’s a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
“A Safe Haven for Newborns is dedicated to reaching pregnant girls and mothers before they reach the crisis stage,” Silverio said. “We believed from the beginning that if we saved only one life, it would be worthwhile.”
Based in Miami, the organization serves all 67 Florida counties and partners with Florida fire chiefs, police, emergency medical services, hospitals, schools and several other agencies to eradicate the potential for infant abandonment and help mothers in crisis. A 24/7 confidential and multilingual help line assists new mothers seeking the Safe Haven option, as well as pregnant mothers and mothers in any kind of crisis.
The organization has assisted more than 6,000 mothers in need and 368 Safe Haven babies and their forever families.
“My job is listening and not judging,” Lobaina told OSV News. “Every case is completely different. I listen and try to understand and then find the ways to help. The cases vary a lot: single moms, first-time moms, moms pregnant with children, some are homeless; some are abused, others are married but their husbands are in jail; many times their families are not able to help. It breaks my heart.
“We want to give them everything, but we cannot. We have a database of resources, and with guidance, we get them the help they need. There is no charge for any of our services.”
The organization exists solely on donations and the list of services is comprehensive: referrals to counseling, parenting; placement at shelters, maternity homes, temporary housing; help for abuse issues, suicide calls, health related issues; providing baby items, connection to Medicaid or confidentially placing the newborn at a designated Safe Haven facility.
“We give the moms the time and the safety to decide if they want to keep their baby — that is the most beautiful thing that can happen,” Lobaino continued. “Safe Haven babies are beautiful children, but there is also what they went through. God was able to guide them through that.
“As they become adults, they are able to understand the love and strength their mother had to be able to give them life, the pain she felt because she couldn’t take care of them, and the trust she had that her child would be taken care of,” she said. “I don’t think words can express it in the scope of a lifetime.”
For more information, visit the website: www.asafehavenfornewborns.com. The 24/7 confidential and multilingual hotline: National: 1-844-767-2229; Florida: 1-877-767-2229.