- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Silver Spring man who last week rescued a baby abandoned at a construction site near Laytonsville was honored yesterday in Montgomery County as a hero.

Juan R. Molina-Cali, 27, received the “Everyday Hero Award” from County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who called Mr. Molina-Cali’s deed “something extraordinary.”

“There are residents of this county who do things that are heroic,” Mr. Duncan said. “His alert, caring response without question saved her life.”

Clad in jeans and a black short-sleeve shirt, Mr. Molina-Cali smiled as he accepted a plaque from Mr. Duncan.

Mr. Molina-Cali, a tile layer from Bolivia who has been in the United States three years, was working at a home in Laytonsville July 4 when he heard crying in the woods nearby. When he drew closer, he found the newborn, lying in the grass, wrapped in a white cloth and covered with bugs. Her umbilical cord was still attached.

“Baby Liberty,” as nurses since named her, was taken to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital dehydrated, bruised and bug-bitten. Yesterday, Liberty was in good condition, said Agnes Leshner, the county’s director of child welfare services.

At yesterday’s ceremony, Mr. Molina-Cali described in Spanish his surprise at finding the newborn at the construction site, where he was laying tile.

“I put my hand on her head and she opened her eyes, and then I was really scared,” Mr. Molina-Cali said through an interpreter.

Mr. Molina-Cali, who has no children, even thought of adopting Liberty, but decided against it.

Asked if he felt like a hero, Mr. Molina-Cali replied, “I don’t know.”

The child’s discovery prompted a wave of calls from people interested in adopting the baby girl. As of yesterday, county officials had received at least 100 such calls, Mr. Duncan said.

Miss Leshner said Liberty will be placed in a foster home after being released from the hospital. Authorities have narrowed their options to fewer than 10 prospective homes, she said.

Police still have not found the child’s mother, Assistant Chief John King said yesterday. He repeated that the mother’s welfare is the police department’s first concern, and that investigators must learn what happened before considering whether to file any charges.

Chief King said police are still looking for a young woman who was seen about 8:15 a.m. July 4 near the construction site in an old, olive Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera or Buick Century, from the late 1980s or early 1990s. Police said the woman is white, about 160 or 170 pounds, with shoulder-length medium-brown hair, and was wearing jean shorts and a light-purple shirt.

Officers have handed out fliers with that information in Laytonsville and in other areas of the county.

Chief King said residents with information about the case should call investigators at 240/773-5400.

This is the first abandoned-child case police have investigated this year, he said. The most recent previous case occurred on Oct. 31, 2001, when a baby was left at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, a police spokeswoman said.

Maryland has a “safe haven” law that allows a mother to avoid prosecution for abandonment if she gives her newborn, unharmed, to a responsible person at a hospital, fire station or police station.

Christopher McCabe, the Maryland secretary of human resources, said yesterday he did not know how the law would apply to this case.

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