A resident of 305 64th Street contacted the West New York Police Department Tuesday after he heard the constant piercing cry of a baby coming from within the walls. Sgt. Sergio Sanchez and patrolmen Leo Hernandez and Eddie Rivera were the first officers on the scene, and after inspecting the resident's bathroom, followed the cries down to the basement.
A newborn baby boy was found in an abandoned airshaft among a mountain of discarded cigarette boxes. Apparently, he had been thrown into the shaft, and the boxes had broken his fall.
"We went to the basement and started punching holes in the wall, where the crying was coming from," said Sanchez. "The baby appeared to be in good condition, and he was naked with the umbilical cord still attached." Paramedics arrived on the scene within seconds of discovering the infant, and rushed him to Jersey City Medical Center.
"My first thought was, how could someone do this, and then just a feeling of happiness that the baby was ok," said Sgt. Sanchez.
"I have been [on the force] for 29 years, and this is the first time I have ever seen anything like this in West New York," said Antolos.
Finding answers Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said that after a swift investigation, police identified 18-year-old Lucila Ventura as the baby's mother.
"About 15 minutes later, they located the mother in her apartment with family members, and paramedics also rushed her tot the hospital," said Antolos. "She is currently under police custody at the hospital and will be formally charged with attempted murder."
According to reports, the Memorial High School senior was pregnant, unbeknownst to her family or classmates, and had complained about stomach pains early Tuesday morning.
She is thought to have gone into labor sometime between 6:30 and 7 a.m., and after birth allegedly threw the baby down the shaft from an opening in the bathroom.
"The investigation [showed] that the baby was thrown from a third-floor window," DeFazio said. "There was some debris including cardboard and cigarette cartons that to some degree broke the baby's fall."
The airshaft The airshaft, which had been closed off some years ago by a wall in the basement, had originally been designed to provide ventilation for the apartment bathrooms of the old building.
According Capt. Robert Antolos, tenants over the years had been disposing of garbage in there.
"There was access through the bathroom from a square panel in the wall [a window] that you could open and close, which led to the basement," said Antolos.
It was reported that Ventura allegedly gave birth to her son in the bathroom, cut the umbilical cord, and then allegedly threw the baby down the abandoned airshaft from the opening in the bathroom.
"The family apparently did not know that the 18-year-old was pregnant or giving birth in the bathroom," DeFazio said. "There was at least one family member home at the time."
Community shocked Ventura's neighbors and classmates are completely stunned by the news of this incident, and have described Ventura as a nice, quiet girl who was often home and mostly kept to herself.
"We are totally shocked," said neighbor Maria Ortiz. "She is always with her parents. She never goes out; she's a good a girl. She's chubby, so no one could tell she was pregnant."
Ortiz, who has lived in the building for several years, always saw Ventura every morning on her way to school and every afternoon coming as she waited outside for her own children.
According to Ortiz, Ventura and her family, who are Salvadorian, had been living in the building about five to six years.
Other neighbors described Ventura as well-mannered and well-educated.
"Last Friday she came to school, but she didn't come to school yesterday [Monday]," said Stephanie Castillo, a junior at Memorial High School.
Stephanie, who knows Ventura from school, was also shocked by the news, especially after finding out that Ventura was even pregnant.
"She's mad quiet, calm, and a really nice girl; she went to school and she went home," said Stephanie.
Sires speaks Assemblyman Speaker and West New York Mayor Albio Sires, who had also been serving as acting governor last week in Trenton, said, "When I first heard about this, I was horrified. I had never heard of such a thing happening in West New York."
Sires also expressed how proud he was of the city police department for doing an excellent job of finding and taking care of the baby. He also wanted to remind citizens of the New Jersey Safe Haven for Infants Act, which was passed by the state Assembly to protect unwanted babies from these types of outcomes.
"Last year we passed the Safe Haven Act, where parents can drop the baby off at any police station, hospital, or fire house, no questions asked, but it doesn't excuse the parent if the baby is bruised or beat up," said Sires. Parents can drop off children at these safe locations without fear of being charged with abandonment.
At first, some members of the Assembly were hesitant to pass the Safe Haven Act because they didn't want to encourage women to discard their babies. However, statistics showed child abandonment to be an ongoing problem.
"We were more concerned about the safety of the baby," said Sires.
Another gruesome discovery On Wednesday, police returned to the airshaft, where they discovered the mummified body of another newborn infant with the umbilical cord still attached.
According to tenants, the body was apparently discovered by the building superintendent, who had gone back to the basement to clean up.
"He said it was a miracle we didn't see it before, because it was right in front of the entrance of the shaft; at first he thought it was a doll," said Ortiz. "The coroners came at about 3:30 p.m. and took the body."
"It's being described as a mummified body of a full-term baby," said DeFazio. "We are awaiting the results of the autopsy to determine whether this is in fact a homicide."
It was determined that it had been there for an extended period of time, perhaps over a year. Results of the autopsy are expected to come in today or tomorrow.
"The investigation is still continuing and clearly there will be forensic work done to establish who the mother is," said DeFazio. "It is in our opinion that the [body] is linked to the discovery of baby boy Ventura."
Baby doing well; mother charged The newborn baby boy remains at Jersey City Medical Center, where he is in good condition, although he did suffer a linear fracture to the skull.
Ventura was also rushed to Palisades Medical Hospital in North Bergen for post-birth medical attention, where she is expected to fully recover. Upon her release, Ventura will be arrested and taken to Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny, where she will await arraignment.
"The West New York Police Department, in consultation with the Prosecutor's Office, have charged her with attempted murder, child abuse and child endangerment," said DeFazio.
Once the baby boy is released from Jersey City Medical Center, the Division of Youth and Family Services will decide where to place him.
For more information on the Safe Haven Program, call (877) 839-2339.