On September 1, 2006, a young woman walked into a Montgomery, Alabama, gas station and headed for the bathroom. After approximately 45 minutes, she walked out and disappeared into the city. Several hours later, another woman went into the restroom. When she had difficulties flushing the toilet, she removed the cover and discovered a baby stuffed into the tank. An autopsy confirmed that the little girl, named Baby Doe, was a full-term, healthy live birth who drowned in the toilet.
Several days later, two Montgomery police officers visited the COPE Pregnancy Center with photos printed from the gas station surveillance tapes, hoping to identify the mother of Baby Doe. No one at COPE recognized the woman in the grainy, blurred photograph, nor could we offer any possible leads to her identity. When COPE Counselor Mary McAlpine asked the officers what would become of the infant, they answered that the baby was considered evidence and would be kept as such until all leads were exhausted. Mary asked if the officers would release the body to us at that point, but they weren't sure if that was possible—although they took a business card just in case.
A month later, the Montgomery Police Department called to ask if we were serious about burying Baby Doe, and the pro-life community went into action. A local cemetery agreed to bury the baby in a plot donated by a Montgomery church. After receiving permission from the COPE board president to purchase a casket, we contacted a local funeral home asking for prices. The director responded by insisting that the business would donate the casket and provide arrangements for a funeral. Furthermore, she said that a headstone was also being donated and would be engraved if we named the baby. Mary McAlpine discussed names with her children that night, and Baby Doe became Catherine Siena.
A service that COPE offers its clients is A Journey to Grace, a post-abortive Bible study to help women heal from their past abortions. During the journey, the mother is asked to name her aborted child (children) and then shop for clothes for that baby. The clothes are donated to COPE as part of the healing process. One such mother asked if Catherine Siena could be buried in the clothes she had purchased. Three COPE counselors delivered the clothing, a handmade blanket, and a toy to the funeral home. As the funeral director discussed the time and details of the service planned for the next day, she mentioned that there probably would be only the four of us in attendance.
When I called a florist near our office about a bundle of flowers to place on the gravesite, the owner assured me that this baby deserved better than that - she would donate the casket spray. The morning of the funeral, one of her deliverymen asked about the infant arrangement she was working on, and, when she explained, he reached into his pocket and handed her $25 to help cover the cost.
Friday, October 5, 2006, was a beautiful sunny day. A hearse delivered little Catherine Siena to the cemetery plot that was already becoming crowded. The entire second shift of the Montgomery Police Department was lined up along the hill near the burial site, at attention—giving this baby the dignity and honor she never received in life. A local pastor and a COPE volunteer delivered the eulogy that centered on the sanctity of life. Prayers were offered for the mother, still at large.
The Mayor and Police Chief were there, along with grandmothers and infants, men and women of all races and economic levels. About 100 people showed up that Friday afternoon to say goodbye to this unknown child. Small children walked up with stuffed animals and handfuls of wild flowers to place on the grave alongside the arrangements that kept appearing. Tears trickled down cheeks of retirees and young mothers holding their children. Truckers and professionals stood with bowed heads as the casket was lowered into the hole.
That afternoon in Montgomery, Alabama, the pro-life community said goodbye to a baby who needlessly died alone. It seemed that people wanted to give this baby the love that all of God's children deserve. We at COPE received a lot of credit for the burial, but we were all facilitators of God's will that week. We simply offered the community the opportunity to do something that mattered to someone so small. We offered people a chance to be involved.
God bless all of you for that involvement.
Lorie Mullins is the Director of COPE Pregnancy Center in Montgomery, Alabama. You can contact her at 334-834-2673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.