A Fairfax County teenager who left her newborn baby girl in the basement of an Arlington church maintains that she did not abandon the child but merely put her there while she searched for the pastor to tell him about the birth, the pastor and the teenager's attorney said yesterday.
The Rev. James R. Gould said the teenager gave him the account when she and her mother came to see him Wednesday, five days after the baby was found in the basement restroom at St. Agnes Catholic Church. Gould said he helped arrange for the 17-year-old to meet with police, who announced Thursday that they had located her.
Gould said he believes the teenager, who is a member of his church. The girl's attorney, William G. McMurtrie, said his client wants to raise the child with the help of her parents. He declined to identify the teenager but described her as bright and articulate. "She wants the child," McMurtrie said. "As she is a child herself, it's important to safeguard her anonymity."
Arlington Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Theo Stamos, whose office will decide whether to prosecute the girl, declined to comment on her version of events. She said the investigation of the case is continuing.
Gould said the teenager brought the baby to the church on June 11 during an afternoon prayer service that he was scheduled to perform. No one had known about her pregnancy, and she wanted Gould's help in telling her parents about the birth, Gould said.
But Gould was called away from the service, so the teenager went searching the church complex for him, the pastor said. He said she later told him that she left the baby in the basement restroom because it was a cool place and it was hot outside.
As the 17-year-old ran to the rectory to look for him, another parishioner found the child in the restroom, Gould said, and paramedics were quickly called. The young mother observed this scene from a distance and was too afraid to come forward, Gould said she told him.
"In that three or four minutes, all hell broke loose," the pastor said. "She looked so young, no one would believe she was the mother. In my mind, this is not an abandonment."
Cpl. Justin McNaull, Arlington police spokesman, declined to comment on whether police believe the teenager's version of events. But he stressed that the baby was "in real medical distress and frankly should have been in the hospital" when found at the church only hours after she was born.
McNaull also pointed out that the teenage mother made no attempt to contact police during the several days that they were searching for her. He said police received an anonymous tip Tuesday night that helped lead them to the mother.
On Wednesday morning, police contacted the teenager's parents in Fairfax and said they wanted to talk to their daughter, McNaull said. "She wasn't there," McNaull said. "They didn't call us when she returned. We were obtaining legal papers when we received a call from her lawyer."
The baby was discharged from Arlington Hospital on Tuesday and sent home with foster parents. Social services officials declined yesterday to comment on the teenager's prospects of being allowed to keep the child, citing the county's continuing investigation.
Gould, who had made an emotional appeal last week for the baby's mother to contact him, said yesterday that the teenager and her mother showed up unannounced at the church Wednesday.
"I looked at her, and said, `You're the one. I knew you would come.' " Gould said. "Tears went everywhere."
Gould said the teenager told him she had been trying to find him after she gave birth, not only for his help in breaking the news to her parents but also so he could baptize the child and help her in getting medical treatment.
The pastor said he asked McMurtrie, a friend of his, to represent the teenager and they all met with police Thursday.
Gould said that the incident has had a profound impact on his church and that parishioners have offered to take in both the teenager and her baby. He pointed to a wall at the church covered with more than 450 engraved names of children whom parishioners have lost over the years. After the discovery of the baby last week, he said, people flocked to the wall to pray. "The floor was wet with tears," he said.
Gould said the teenager has not been allowed to see her baby since she left it in the restroom. "She's glued to the television every night, looking for a picture," he said.
CAPTION: The Rev. James R. Gould said the mother is a member of his church.