Unsettling discovery at former hospital

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 2010

The underground photographer likes to explore abandoned buildings - dark, decrepit places, such as the old pathology office on the edge of the campus that once housed D.C. General Hospital.

Through an unlocked door he crept - flashlight in hand, camera around his neck - down a hallway, into an office, where he made a discovery that has sent shivers to the highest reaches of the District's police department.

Inside a container, beneath a label that read "Babies that have been Autopsied," the photographer saw what he is convinced are the remains of a young human life.

A "human baby," he said. "With fingernails, hair, eyelashes, everything."

On Thursday, after speaking to and texting with the photographer, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier dispatched a search team, which found what he had discovered.

"We recovered what appears to be human remains, possibly that of a fetus," said Lanier, who ordered the remains transported to the D.C. medical examiner's office, which will perform an autopsy.

"It may take some time to get a final ruling," the chief said. "It doesn't appear to be a crime. It's very sad."

The photographer is a 40-year-old man who lives 25 miles outside the District in Maryland. During a phone interview, which was repeatedly interrupted as he worked at his day job, he declined to provide his name for fear that he will be charged with trespassing, even though Lanier said she has no interest in arresting him.

The photographer said he is part of an informal group that, as a hobby, explores abandoned government and private buildings, taking photographs and sharing them online to pay homage to historically significant sites and architecture. He declined to detail other places he has explored except to say that there are hundreds of similar locations from Florida to Pennsylvania to Illinois.

What drew him to the D.C. General campus - which once housed a large morgue - is its cultural and historical significance, he said. The hospital shut down in 2001.

"The curiosity is there for the doctors and patients. It was the focus of their life, and meanwhile it's abandoned and forgotten," he said.

Three weeks ago, after researching which buildings on the campus were still vacant, he drove to what he believed was once the pathology building, a three-story brick structure south of RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory. The 67-acre D.C. General campus is now home to the medical examiner's office, a homeless shelter, and clinics for substance abusers and people with sexually transmitted diseases.

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