- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - Twenty years ago, a baby was born inside a warehouse for the Lillian Vernon catalog business near Lynnhaven Mall.

The birth went unnoticed until three to five days later - on Dec. 21, 1996 - when a custodian spotted a plastic bag hanging from a coat hook inside a women’s locker room. He was about to throw it into a dumpster but peeked inside first.

He found the body of a baby girl with dark hair. She was wrapped in a red “Colours” brand golf shirt that featured a crest embroidered with the words “Sport. Athletic. Champion.” The body was in such poor condition that her race could not be determined.

For two decades, police have been trying to figure out the girl’s identity. They named her Baby Hope.

With the help of DNA, the Police Department’s cold case unit has been trying to home in on the baby’s mother.

“Our goal is to give her a name,” Detective Angela Curran told reporters Wednesday.

It’s a daunting task.

About 4,000 employees were working at the warehouse at that time - 2,800 of them women. Curran wants to get in touch with all of them.

So far, she’s gotten 51 women to agree to give police DNA swabs. Of those, 41 have been eliminated as the mother. The remaining 10 are being tested by the state lab. It’s not as easy as just calling the women up and asking, though. She has to work with police around the country to collect the DNA samples.

Also, because it was close to Christmas, the warehouse had seasonal workers - more than usual. They came from all over to work at Lillian Vernon, which distributes personalized gifts. The company no longer has a Virginia Beach warehouse.

The case is still being actively investigated, so the detective could provide only limited details.

The women’s locker room, where the baby was found, could be accessed only by certain employees. About an hour before the baby was found, there was a bomb threat at the warehouse. Police aren’t sure whether the two incidents were related.

A medical examiner determined the baby died of “inattention,” Curran said.

Over the years, police have sought tips from the public, and no detail has been too small to check out.

Back in 1996, technology was not the same. Lillian Vernon didn’t have security cameras, and police could not use DNA the way they do now.

Virginia Beach police have worked with several other agencies to try to identify Baby Hope.

“It’s time to come forward and give this baby her name,” Curran said.

___

Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, https://pilotonline.com


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