Wind whistled through old, warped doors and rain pounded on the roof as about 150 ambulance workers and other first responders gathered in a Medford church Saturday morning for the funeral of an infant boy found dead in a garbage transfer station.
The unidentified baby, later named Thomas John Hope, was found in a bale of recycling material at the Winters Brothers facility in Yaphank on Jan. 4.
The infant's body had been held until a few days ago by the Suffolk County medical examiner, according to Timothy Jaccard of the AMT Children of Hope, a nonprofit group, based in Nassau County, that provides a safe haven for mothers who don't want their newborns.
The case is considered a homicide, Jaccard said, and detectives did not want the medical examiner to release the body until they had ruled out an imminent arrest, in which case the body might have been turned over to a family member.
"Thomas came into the world in a terrible way," Jaccard, a Nassau County ambulance medical technicianfrom Wantagh, told those in the sanctuary of the Church of St. Sylvester. But the child had an impact, Jaccard said, because publicity about the death prompted two other women to call the group's national hotline 877-796-HOPE (4673) and arrange to give up their babies.
"And because of Thomas' death, we have two young children living today because their mothers, who were in the same situation Thomas' mom was in, actually called and made a difference," Jaccard said.
The baby's coffin was carried into and out of the church by two AMTs - ambulance medical technicians - in their dress green uniforms. Many of those in the congregation wore motorcycle vests or jackets bearing the logos of The Blue Knights, representing law enforcement, or the Fire Riders, representing the fire service. Some wore clothing emblazoned "Bikers Against Child Abuse."
The Rev. Edward Kealey, who celebrated the Mass, said people should think honestly about how they feel when there is such a death: anger, sadness, hope and forgiveness. "Forgiveness is never forgetting. It's never excusing, but it is rising above anger, and I think that is the challenge: to rise above the pain," Kealey said.
"We wish he had a larger legacy. We wish he had a greater life," the priest said. "But he does give us a tiny gift . . . Thomas John encourages all of us to live in hope."
Finding safe haven for infants
A mother who believes she cannot care for her baby can call AMT Children of Hope at 877-796-HOPE and give up the baby, "no strings attached," the group says.
Mothers can leave a newborn at a number of locations, including police stations, firehouses, hospitals, churches or with any responsible adult willing to accept the baby and call proper authorities.
A person can remain anonymous and will not be prosecuted for leaving an unwanted infant in a safe place, the group says. The group advises mothers to seek help before the baby is born to ensure that it is delivered safely.
- WILLIAM MURPHY