Northeast Bakersfield

Burial site for abandoned babies fills need in Kern County

Burial site for abandoned babies fills need in Kern County

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A new project to provide respectful burials for abandoned babies will see three, and possibly four, infants laid to rest in its first service.

The local Garden of Innocence was just being proposed when an infant's body was found left in a trash can in Oildale. That child will be buried later this month, along with several others.
 
"I don't know the exact facts of the other two, but I believe that one of them was left at the hospital," Kern County Sheriff's Commander Justin Fleeman told Eyewitness News. He's the head of the Kern County coroner's office, and they've been working with the founder of the Garden of Innocence project since this spring.
 
Fleeman said sometimes a parent will give birth at the hospital, and when the baby passes away, they may not have the financial means to bury the child. The infant's body then ends up with the county.

"It's unfortunate," he said.
 
The Garden of Innocence project was founded by Elissa Davey, and the nonprofit has established special burial spaces in various California cities and throughout the United States. They had just contacted the county and Historic Union Cemetery at the time the baby was found in Oildale in June.
 
Cemetery general manager Dave Hepburn said the day word of that death came out, he spotted a similar case at their facility.

"I just noticed in our paperwork, that it said there was an abandoned child," he said. Hepburn was already impressed with the goal of the Garden of Innocence project and interested in providing space at Union Cemetery.
 
Hepburn said one of his staff members was upset by the abandoned baby, whose remains had just been transferred to them.

"I asked Patricia (an office worker) to name the baby, and she went through a whole series of names, and she ended up naming the baby 'David,'" he explained.
 
The Innocence project stresses finding a name for each unidentified child.
 
"The most important gift we can give each child is a name," their letter reads to public officials. "This is something every human being deserves."
 
The infant found on Oildale's Beardsley Avenue was named by sheriff's commander Fleeman and two other officers.

"We gave the name 'Gabriella' to the baby," he said. "It means 'God is my strength.' So we thought it was appropriate."
 
The commander said the third baby is a boy, who's been named "Michael." He didn't have further details.
 
At Union Cemetery, Hepburn said he's heard another funeral home also discovered they were holding the remains of an unidentified infant. And, Garden founder Davey said a fourth child could also be laid to rest during the first ceremony if that child's paperwork is completed in time.
 
At Union Cemetery, Hepburn said when remains are unclaimed, the county brings those to the cemetery, and they get a "certificate of abandonment."

Then, a cremation is done, and the remains must be stored for one year. If still unclaimed after that, the remains are put into an urn box and placed into a communal crypt.
 
Until now, that included remains from unidentified adults and children. But, now there is the special place for the very young victims with the Garden of Innocence project.
 
The project provides the memorial service, "complete with color guard, handmade caskets or urns, handmade blanket and a poem written for each child," their letter reads. "We use local mortuaries and volunteers from your community to run the gardens."
 
Union Cemetery has donated a special area for the local garden, which has space for 200 burials, according to the general manager. A large oak tree and hedge have been donated. Hepburn said flowers will be planted, and they've ordered a special granite bench and monument for the entrance.
 
Hepburn said several members of the clergy have been invited to participate in the first service.

"There is no discussion whatsoever of the past," he added. "We don't discuss anything about the previous events that brought the baby here."
 
With the baby on Beardsley, sheriff investigators asked the public for any information to help track down who left the child, or who the mother might be. There's still no word on new developments in the case.
 
Officers told Eyewitness News the infant appeared to be full-term, and likely no more than several days old when the body was put in the trash can. Investigators believed the baby had been left there for a day at the most, and confirmed the child showed "obvious signs of trauma." Fleeman said on Thursday the cause of death had still not been determined.
 
That child, and the others, are now set to be laid to rest in the new garden on Saturday, Sept. 28. The service will start at 10 a.m. and will be open to the public.
 
Hepburn said when a similar project opened in Fresno, they buried a troubling number of abandoned babies.

"There were 23 the first day," he said. "Can you imagine that? It's just so incredibly sad."
 
He thinks having a special garden is a very good idea, and Fleeman agreed. He and two other officers also paid for the services for Gabriella.
 
"It was the right thing to do," he said. "It's a special thing to be a part of, to really give children a proper burial."