A 6-day-old girl was reunited with her parents at Arlington Hospital yesterday, a few hours before a former hospital employe was arraigned on a charge of abducting the newborn from her mother's arms.
"I'm not going to let her out of my sight for the rest of my life," said a tearful Loreli Smith, 23, as she cradled daughter Jennifer Renee, who was swaddled in a pink and blue blanket.
The suspect in the case, Valerie M. Holbert, 23, of Bradbury Heights in Prince George's County, was arraigned in Arlington Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on a charge of abduction and was released pending a preliminary hearing Aug. 15. Her husband, 16-year District police Officer Charles T. Holbert, 44, accompanied her during the 10-minute proceeding.
Law enforcement officials said Valerie Holbert recently had a miscarriage.
Valerie Holbert worked briefly at Arlington Hospital as a medical technician, drawing blood from patients, before being fired in May, hospital officials said. The hospital would not give the reason for her dismissal.
Holbert also had worked at George Washington University Hospital. A hospital spokesman said her return there on Friday to show off a baby prompted calls to police that eventually led to the Smith infant's return.
Valerie Holbert's name surfaced Saturday morning, when an anonymous tipster called an Arlington police hot line to say that she had been seen with the child, said Sgt. James M. Schweitzer, head of Arlington's juvenile division. Police could not locate her Saturday, he said, because of confusion over her address.
Sometime Saturday, he said, Arlington police contacted a Holbert relative to talk about the case. Schweitzer said he did not know whether the relative, whom he would not identify, had told Holbert she was a suspect.
A GW hospital spokesman, who said Holbert had worked there as a lab technician before leaving last summer, said that after Holbert brought a baby to the hospital, "At least one GW employe made a call to the police when they suspected something was strange about the situation." The hospital later helped police locate Holbert, the spokesman said.
Schweitzer said police are satisfied that Charles Holbert did not participate in the abduction, but do not know when he first learned that the baby in his home was the Smiths'.
It was Charles Holbert who called his lieutenant at the 5th District police station Sunday night to report that his wife had the missing baby, police said. The couple went to the police station together, where they were met by their lawyer and two Arlington police investigators. They then went to the Arlington station, where Valerie Holbert was arrested, booked and released on her own recognizance.
Holbert will remain on duty for now "since there appears to be no involvement on his part in the abduction of the child," said Lt. William White III, a District police spokesman. Other law enforcement officials, however, said the department's internal affairs division wants to know why Holbert did not notify police about the baby before Sunday.
Arlington police said yesterday that they had no motive in the case, which began Thursday afternoon when a woman dressed in hospital scrubs lifted the newborn from her mother's arms, explaining that she would be brought back after routine blood tests. The abduction was discovered after a nurse asked Smith later that afternoon where her baby was.
One of the Holberts' neighbors on Quinn Street, 15-year-old Anthony Williams, said yesterday that Holbert had "looked big" this past spring and had told him she was pregnant.
Williams said he first knew on Thursday night or Friday morning that the couple had a baby. The baby was called Megan, he said, and Valerie Holbert told him the delivery had been painful. "The way they were talking about it was like it was theirs," he said. "She said it was her baby." Charles Holbert, he said, "acted like a proud daddy."
After the baby was returned, she was taken to Children's Hospital, where she was found to be in good condition. She was then sent to Arlington Hospital, where blood tests determined she was the missing infant. She was reunited with her parents at 1:30 a.m.
"I held her, I hugged her and we fell asleep together," said Loreli Smith. Elizabeth A. Flynn, a hospital spokesman, said the infant "seemed very, very comfortable with its mother."
Jennifer, who was 6 pounds 11 ounces at birth, slept quietly as her parents spoke with reporters yesterday before driving home with her. Loreli and Herbert Smith have three other children.
The Smiths went to Arlington Hospital to have their baby because their obstetrician practices there. The baby was delivered by cesarean section last Tuesday.
The Smith home in Capitol Heights is only a short drive from the brown and beige house at 4301 Quinn St. that the Holberts purchased in January.
"I'm glad she's back," said Herbert Smith, 27, an employe of a tire and auto shop.
Smith did not criticize the hospital yesterday, but at a news conference Friday he said he was angry that a stranger could masquerade as a hospital employe and take the baby.
The hospital put a 24-hour guard on duty at the maternity ward after the abduction, and warned all patients to check that any purported employes they dealt with had proper identification.
Lawyer Lillian McEwen, whose firm is representing Valerie Holbert, would not say yesterday how her client, who is unemployed, intends to plead.
The abduction charge is a felony that carries a potential prison term of one to 10 years on conviction.
Staff writers John Ward Anderson, Alexandra Clough and Athelia Knight contributed to this report.