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Albuquerque police officer adopts a homeless addict’s baby after a chance on-duty encounter

Albuquerque Police Officer Ryan Holets adopted a baby from a heroin addict he met in a chance encounter on duty Sept. 23. (Video: Elyse Samuels, Kelyn Soong/The Washington Post)

If Albuquerque Police Officer Ryan Holets had his way, this story never would have gone viral. CNN would not have learned that Holets, while on duty, had agreed to adopt a baby from a homeless drug addict about to shoot up heroin in broad daylight.

And CNN never would have had a chance to chronicle that encounter, drawing the attention of millions of people worldwide to the story of how Holets’s family grew by one on Oct. 12.

Holets, a religious 27-year-old who values his privacy, didn’t do it for the attention. He did it because he felt a calling from God. He knew it was the right thing to do.

“We didn’t do this to have a story,” Holets said in a phone interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday. “That is entirely not why we did it, but after talking to some close friends whom I trust, we realized this was a way to put a face on the drug problem and maybe encourage other people to adopt.”

On Sept. 23, Holets responded to a call about a possible theft from a convenience store in Albuquerque. By the time he and a police recruit arrived, the thief was no longer there, but Holets noticed some commotion in a grassy area behind the store.

He spotted a woman about to inject a needle into her companion’s arm. The woman, Crystal Champ, 35, was eight months pregnant.

With his body camera on, Holets approached the couple and confronted them, “Why are you doing this stuff? It’s going to ruin your baby. You’re going to kill your baby.”

Champ began to sob.

“How dare you judge me? You have no idea how hard this is,” Champ told CNN about how she felt. “I know what a horrible person I am. I know what a horrible situation I’m in.”

In the interview, Holets acknowledged that he initially judged Champ and her partner, Tom. But he said he soon learned how badly Champ longed for her child to go to a good family. He realized Champ wanted someone to adopt her baby.

Holets offered to do just that.

“His entire being changed,” Champ said to CNN. “He just became a human being instead of a police officer.”

Holets and his wife, Rebecca, were at the University of New Mexico Hospital when Champ gave birth to a baby girl, Hope, on Oct. 12, one month earlier than her due date.

Doctors needed to treat Hope to help her through withdrawals — “It was very difficult to watch,” Holets said — but she was able to leave the hospital after a week and a half.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the overall incidence of such withdrawal, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, has increased almost 300 percent between 1999 and 2013 in the 28 states that the 2016 study included.

“She’s gaining weight, eating well, sleeping well,” Holets said of Hope. “We’re just praying and hoping for the best for her. As far as development goes, we won’t know the effects until she’s older.”

When Sgt. Jim Edison learned what Holets did, he was floored. In his 10 years as a police officer, he has seen many “heroic acts,” but none like what Holets did, Edison said.

“This guy wasn’t just taking a call, he was changing everybody’s life around him,” he said. “It’s so unselfish. I was just humbled.”

Edison wrote a memo nominating Holets for outstanding service for the city of Albuquerque, but felt that didn’t suffice. It’s his job to reward his officers and encourage them to do the right thing, and so Edison signed Holets up to do an interview for CNN’s “Beyond the Call of Duty” series without telling him.

“Every day he calls me to ask for forgiveness,” Holets said with a chuckle. “And I keep assuring him that we’re fine. We didn’t quite realize it would get this response, and neither did he. … But we all realize it’s a really good thing, and some really good things can come of it.”

Holets was born and raised in Albuquerque and joined the city’s police department six years ago. He and his wife already had four young children before bringing Hope into their lives.

The couple had wanted to adopt a year or two down the road, and so when Holets approached his wife while on duty that day in September to break the news to her, Rebecca’s jaw dropped.

“I was shocked and surprised but just super, super excited,” she said.

One of Holets’s conditions when he agreed to CNN’s interview was that his superiors would not set up a GoFundMe page for his family: “We don’t want anybody to say we’ve used this occasion to enrich ourselves,” Holets said. He instead urges those who want to offer support to donate to a local drug rehabilitation center or adoption organization.

Holets has been quietly helping Champ and her partner find the right rehabilitation center and gave them a tablet computer so they can receive photos of Hope over email.

To Holets’s knowledge, the pair, who have not responded to a Post interview request made through Holets, are not clean. It was always his goal from the beginning to help them through rehab.

On Wednesday afternoon, Holets told The Post in a Skype interview that he learned the couple is “willing to talk and [is] interested” in meeting representatives from an out-of-state rehab center to “discuss the possibilities of entering rehab.”

Holets is hopeful that it will happen. To him, it seems meant to be.

Shortly after Holets named his baby, Champ informed him of something he didn’t know. Her middle name is Hope.

This post has been updated.

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