- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

The Rev. Marcus Tillman, pastor of First Baptist Church of Mount Rainier, called yesterday because he was “frantic” and “devastated to the point of tears about these babies.” Somehow, he decided, “I know you can do something.”

You see, Mr. Tillman is a faithful fan of “Reporter’s Notebook,” which airs at the ungodly hour of 6:15 on Sunday mornings on WRC-TV (Channel 4), where he listens to yours truly ranting and raving about local issues with fellow panelists Jerry Phillips of Clear Channel and Dave McConnell of WTOP Radio.

“I was talking to one of my parishioners, and I told her, ‘I’m going to call Ms. Washington about this,’” he said, asking what I thought he and his congregation could do to stop babies from being abandoned on doorsteps and behind trash bins. More importantly, what they can do to get the message out to mothers that they have other options.

Two more babies, one apparently asphyxiated when he was placed in a plastic grocery bag, were abandoned in as many days earlier this week in Prince George’s County.

Well, as divine providence would have it, I was indeed working on another piece about “safe-haven” laws designed to give frightened, intimidated or incapable mothers a way to relinquish newborns without fear of prosecution.

“I had never heard of such a thing as a safe-haven law,” said the 39-year-old pastor, who has worked in community organizations and churches in Southeast and as a parent liaison in the Prince George’s County school system.

Mr. Tillman is the proud father of a 7-year-old son he adopted five years ago after the toddler was abandoned in a Philadelphia hospital by an in-law. “I just wish those folks had left the baby on my doorstep,” said the loving father of two girls as well.

“It’s really a shame that there is not greater public awareness about the safe-haven laws,” he said. “But we’re prepared as a church to do anything we can, because we want the community to be well aware of their options.”

Mr. Tillman is prepared to make his church on Rhode Island Avenue a safe haven and to start his own public awareness campaign by having county officials talk to his congregation so it can spread the word.

Under the state’s safe-haven law, mothers can leave newborns at places of worships, hospitals and firehouses, no questions asked, said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office.

However, Steve Berry, manager of in-home services for the Maryland Department of Social Services, offers a critical clarification. The narrow intent of the law is to protect the child and prevent pursuit and prosecution of the parent.

The state’s safe-haven law, enacted in 2002, covers newborns up to 3 days of age. They must be relinquished to a “reasonable person,” preferably at a hospital or police station. The mother must give approval to that reasonable person, who must, in turn, agree to take the child to get medical attention immediately.

“If it only helps one mom and one child, it’s worth it,” Mr. Berry said.

Still, mothers must be made aware of the option.

Mr. Tillman, for one, is desperate to help; he just doesn’t know how.

Remember Baby “Liberty,” who was found last year wrapped in a shirt and left to die near a gritty construction site near Laytonsville?

Remember Baby Vernon James Doe, who was discovered dead in a Mount Vernon creek by Fairfax golfers?

Remember Tanisha Montague, the Jamaican teenager convicted of attempted murder after her newborn, only hours old, was discovered when neighbors heard cries amid garbage bags 15 minutes before a trash truck arrived in Germantown after a snowstorm in 1999?

Remember the 12-year-old Manassas girl who wrapped a 6-pound, 11-ounce baby girl in a plastic grocery bag and put her in the trash can in winter 1999?

Remember the 17-year-old Fairfax teenager who left her 7-pound, 1-ounce baby girl — barely breathing — in a basket on top of a toilet in St. Agnes Catholic Church in Arlington in June 1999?

Now, we cry for “Baby John,” as Prince George’s County police named the deceased newborn found Sunday wedged beneath a wrought-iron fence in Oxon Hill. Now, we offer prayers for “Baby Dorey,” as hospital workers named her, after she was found on the doorstep of a Clinton couple’s home early Monday morning.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting the word out,” said Mr. Tillman, who wants to spearhead the movement.

Then, he will have somewhere to go for assistance other than to a ranting and raving, albeit concerned, columnist.

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