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Woman abandoned in Fairfax as a baby finds her rescuers

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009; A01

Christopher Astle and Emily Yanich were teenage pals strolling back from a 7-Eleven that afternoon in late summer -- two ordinary kids on an ordinary Wednesday after school -- when they found the abandoned baby.

It was Sept. 6, 1989. They discovered the newborn wrapped in towels at the front door of a townhouse in their Fairfax County complex and took the infant to Emily's, where her stepfather called police.

The whole thing was over pretty quickly. The authorities took the baby girl, who was later adopted. Chris and Emily, both 15, went on with their lives, although Emily often cried when she told people the story, and the two called each other every Sept. 6.

Twenty years passed.

Then, on Dec. 2, a college student named Mia Fleming sent them both a message via Facebook: Might they be the same Chris and Emily who had once found a baby left at a stranger's door?

If so, she just wanted to say thanks.

After all these years, the little girl they had found had found them.

The story of Mia, Chris and Emily, recounted by the three over the past few days, is a nativity narrative for modern times. There were no heavenly hosts that warm afternoon in 1989, just the distant ambulance sirens after the call to 911. But the event seemed blessed all the same.

Chris and Emily, both now 35, stayed close friends as they grew up, moved and married, bound by their rescue of the baby.

Mia, once she learned her story, never forgot them, and after numerous tries over several years managed at last, through the power of the Internet, to track them down. "I didn't know how they would feel," she said.

Emily said: "It's like a miracle. . . . My heart is filled now. There was always a little spot missing. "

Chris said, "It's the best Christmas present I have ever gotten."

A reunion is being planned so the three can see one another again. Mia, now 20, said she was excited. Chris said, "I just want to give her a hug."

Finding the newborn

The saga began that day in September about 4 in the afternoon.

Chris, of South Riding, and Emily, now Yanich-Fithian, who lives in Lewisberry, Pa., were then high school students living in the community of Tysontowne.

Chris was a C student and heavy metal music fan who wore Metallica T-shirts -- "an average, ordinary high school kid trying to find his way through life," he said.

Emily sang in the school chorus and had a job at the mall. She recalled that they had probably gone to the 7-Eleven to buy cigarettes.

They had just returned to their complex when they heard the baby crying.

"I looked around and noticed that there weren't any moms out there pushing their kids around in a stroller," Chris said. The cries were coming from the front landing of a townhouse, where it looked like no one was home.

Chris started up the steps and spotted a bundle of orange towels in a corner at the top.

"I walked over and carefully unfolded the towels, and here's a naked newborn baby girl, just crying," he said. "She still had part of her umbilical cord attached. . . . She had a full head of hair. I picked her up and held her. She kept on crying. . . . I was completely freaked out."

He and Emily banged and kicked on the door and rang the bell. No one answered. They wondered what they should do.

Had someone forgotten the baby? Was she hungry? Should they go back to the 7-Eleven and get some food? Should they leave the baby? Should they take her? Would they get in trouble?

They decided to take her.

Chris's mother was out getting her nails done. His parents were separated.

But Emily's stepfather, Bill DeLancey, was working in their garage. He would know what to do.

As they walked up the driveway to Emily's house a block or so away, he spotted them and joked: "What did you guys bring home this time?"

"Bill," Emily said, "we found a baby."

"He about fell out of his chair," Chris recalled.

The teens explained what had happened. Everyone went inside, and Bill called 911. Police, medics and firefighters came quickly.

"The next thing we know, the paramedics took the baby, and she was gone," Chris said. The police interviewed the teens, as did a newspaper reporter, who wrote a story in The Washington Post.

It turned out that the baby was less than 12 hours old, officials said later. She weighed 6 pounds, 10 1/2 ounces and was 19 inches long. She had olive skin, dark eyes and dark hair, and was in excellent health. There was no trace of her mother.

The teens later bought the baby a teddy bear -- possibly at the 7-Eleven, Chris said -- visited her in the hospital and went back to high school.

Finding the finders

Emily's family moved to Pennsylvania about a year later. There, she eventually married, had two kids and got a job driving a school bus. Chris stayed in the area, became a computer engineer and also got married.

The two shared a bond, though, through the child. They wondered who had left her and why. "We hoped she was happy and healthy and that she got adopted to a loving family," Chris said.

Both got a letter and a picture of the baby sent by the adoptive mother a year or two after she was found. Emily framed the picture and kept it with her family photos.

Mia had been adopted by a British couple living in Northern Virginia. The couple, who asked that their names not be used to maintain their privacy, had adopted a daughter from Thailand and were seeking another child.

They had seen the newspaper story about the teens who found the baby and later were contacted by officials asking whether they were interested in adopting her. They were delighted.

They said in interviews that she was a wonderful child and a joy to raise, although they put off telling her the story of her abandonment, for fear it might upset her.

Mia made the discovery herself. When she was about 9, she was going through the scrapbook her mother kept about her early childhood and found an envelope. Inside was a newspaper story.

At first, Mia said, it bothered her that she had been abandoned at birth, but then she became curious about the two teenagers who had saved her and whose teddy bear she still had.

She knew their names from the newspaper and said she began trying to find them on Facebook when she was in high school. It was hard. There were many Chris Astles on Facebook, and she had no way of knowing which was the right one. She was leery of trying them at random.

On Dec. 1, near the close of the college semester, Mia, a reserved and soft-spoken junior with dark hair and a tattoo of a bull on her left shoulder, discovered on Facebook a person who looked as though she might be Emily. She scrolled through Emily's list of friends and spotted the name Chris Astle. This had to be them.

Late that night, she "friended" them on Facebook. Neither recognized her name. The next day, both messaged back saying, essentially, "Who are you?"

Mia agonized about her response.

"I was so nervous thinking about what I would say to them and how they would react," she said in an e-mail. "I was speaking to my boyfriend online at this point. . . . I told him that I was really nervous and was afraid that they wouldn't want to hear from me, or would think I was some sort of crazy person."

That evening, sitting on her bed, she wrote back to Chris and Emily, then ran off to a 7 p.m. class, worrying what they might think.

"Hi, I'm sorry to bother you," she wrote to Chris, "but if you are the Chris Astle I was looking for then I just want to thank you. You and Ms. Yanich found me on someone's doorstep when I was an infant. I don't really know what else to say, but thank you. If I've gotten the wrong person then I apologize! -Mia"

In his office, Chris read the message and exclaimed out loud.

A buddy down the hall heard him and called, "Are you all right?"

Chris said he was fine.

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