Baby Hope honored in Wheaton as police seek answers in her death
Reunited at a Wheaton park Wednesday, Trinity Haack and Zoe Wituk were two happy toddlers in spring dresses.
Their shared story started when they were newborns. Trinity's birth mom left her at a DeKalb fire station. Zoe was handed over to another safe haven created under state law.
Their adoptive families, who get together every year, say the 2-year-old girls are living proof of a lifesaving law. So their parents feel a personal loss over the death of Baby Hope, who could have been another "safe haven cousin" for their daughters.
The baby, named Hope by DuPage County sheriff's deputies, was found dead last August in a backpack on a wooded, remote road near Wheaton.
The Haacks, Wituks and safe haven advocates gathered Wednesday morning at Seven Gables Park to dedicate a tree and plaque in honor of the girl's memory as police continue the search for Baby Hope's parents.
While Trinity and Zoe playfully sat under the "Tree of Hope," it was easy to think about what could have been.
"She could have had a happy and healthy life," said Christie Haack, Trinity's adoptive mom. "Baby Hope's mother could have also had a happy life without fear of guilt knowing that her baby was in the arms of people who love her."
Beneath an autumn blaze maple, the plaque faces a playground and notes that hospitals, fire departments and police stations are safe havens where parents in crisis can legally relinquish their babies. Unharmed infants, up to 30 days old, also can be can be handed to college or university security police without fear of prosecution.
"It is totally anonymous, totally free, totally safe," said Susan Walker, a founder of Rest in His Arms, a Wheeling-based nonprofit group that buries abandoned babies. "There's no questions asked. There's no information that needs to be exchanged. And it leaves a baby with an opportunity for a great life with an adoptive family."
State lawmakers enacted the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act in 2001. Since that time, 119 babies have been left at safe havens and 79 were illegally abandoned. Of the 79, advocates say, 41 infants died, including Baby Hope.
Safe haven staff members bring babies to a hospital, where a social worker contacts the state Department of Children and Family Services. About a dozen adoption agencies in Illinois coordinate with DCFS to find permanent homes for safe haven children who are first placed in foster care.
Haack and her husband received a call from their adoption counselor about Trinity on a Thursday night. By that Saturday afternoon, the Roselle couple brought the girl home.
"This child is not lost in foster care," said Haack, who began working for the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation after adopting Trinity. "The baby will be immediately loved and cherished."
Before a small crowd at the ceremony, sheriff's deputies showed images of what Baby Hope's parents might look like. Police in October released the snapshot composites based on a DNA analysis by Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs.
A team of detectives is still chasing leads -- almost 100 since Baby Hope's death Aug. 15 -- in an attempt to locate her family, Sgt. Jeff Christiansen said.
"Somebody out there knows what happened to Baby Hope, and she deserves to rest in peace," Christiansen said.
Rest in His Arms, the Wheaton Park District and Wheaton moms covered the cost of installing the plaque and tree. Walker and Bre Stetka, who reached out to the park district about the project, called it a reminder of safe alternatives for parents who cannot care for their newborns.
"We hope it's an enduring legacy to her and it can help to prevent the tragedy from ever happening again," Walker said.