A Montgomery County woman was reunited with her 1-year-old daughter early yesterday morning, more than three hours after two armed robbers accosted the woman and stole her car -- with the baby inside -- as she parked in front of her Silver Spring home.
The incident began about 11 p.m. Tuesday night, Montgomery County police spokesman Cpl. Phil Caswell said, when the woman was robbed at gunpoint and knocked to the ground after she parked her new, black Ford compact in front of her home on University Boulevard in Silver Spring. The gunmen ordered the woman to remove the baby from the front seat, Caswell said, but the woman was too frightened to move. The impatient gunmen jumped into her car and sped off with the baby and a box of disposable diapers in the back.
Caswell asked that the name of the woman and baby be withheld during the investigation.
More than three hours after the robbery, police in the District of Columbia received a call for an abandoned baby at New Hampshire Avenue and Farragut Street NW. Officers Clarence E. Bell and William U. Brown, 14-year veterans of the city's police force, found a man seated on a brick wall with the baby, near a telephone booth in front of a shopping center drug store..
The man, who identified himself only as "Jerry Smith," told the officers he found the baby on a porch on Emerson Street NW, about four blocks away. Police said "Smith" turned over the baby, said he did not want to get involved, and left.
Bell and Brown had heard an earlier report of a kidnaped Montgomery County baby, but "it just didn't click," Bell said.
"We could've kicked ourselves in the butts after realizing what we had a robbery-kidnaping . . . We should've kept him," Bell said yesterday. "Things weren't clicking and we took it for face value instead of looking further into it right off."
Bell added that they weren't initially suspicious, since "Smith" voluntarily turned over the baby.
The officers went first to the Emerson Street address. No one was home, but the officers did find an obviously placed grocery store check-cashing card with the mother's name. The card, police said, had been inside the woman's purse that was stolen with the car. Police assumed the robbers left the card on the porch steps so the officers would be able to find the baby's home.
The police officers also noted one added curiosity: The baby was dry, apparently having just been changed into one of the diapers left in the back of the car.
With Bell driving and Brown holding the infant while chomping on his ever-present cigar, the two officers made the 15-minute drive to D.C. General Hospital in Southeast.
"When the guy gave me the baby, she started crying," said Brown. "Then I started rocking her and she quieted down and just looked up at me smoking my cigar. In the car, on the way over to the hospital she slept."
During the drive, the police dispatcher told them that the toddler matched the description of Montgomery County's kidnaped infant -- all the way down to her blue-and-white jump suit, white-hooded sweater and barrettes.
"I was telling my partner that she the baby was quite lucky because if there wasn't any compassion in the people that committed the crime, they could have dumped the baby in a garbage can or anything," Bell said.
Caswell said police still are searching for the baby's abductors, believed to be teen-agers, and for the woman's 1982 black Ford EXT compact.
Police said the woman was in tears when reunited with the child at the hospital. The baby remained cool. " "She just looked very alert like she knew everything that was going on," Bell said.
"The baby was the high point of our night," Brown said. "Most things are routine: husband-wife type disputes, burglar alarms going off. Even after the broadcast of the kidnaped baby , we didn't think we would get involved. It was in Montgomery County."