After authorities got the anonymous 911 call, police and firefighters fanned out quickly to try locating an infant abandoned under a pine tree in a graveyard.
They looked and looked around Mt. Hope Cemetery in Champaign, Illinois on that chilly morning and couldn’t find the baby.
But on a whim, Charlie Heflin — listening to the developing drama over his scanner — figured he’d help out by taking a different approach.
He simply went to a different cemetery.
But again, no luck. After not locating the infant, either, Heflin started to walk back to his truck…when he got the sense he should try again.
“I heard a little whimper when I got close to the tree,” Heflin told WFIE-TV in Evansville, Indiana. “I dug down inside this real huge pine tree and found her.”
What Heflin found was a baby covered in blood and leaves — her umbilical cord still attached — and in serious danger given the sub-zero temperatures.
“I handed her off to the paramedics and I didn’t see her since,” Heflin said.
That was 18 years ago.
And the after-story?
Well, Skyler James — who said her birth mother abandoned her all those years ago — was adopted by Bonnie and Greg James five days after Heflin rescued her.
Knowing Skyler’s story, Bonnie James started looking for Heflin when Skylar turned five.
“We had his name from the newspaper,” she told WFIE-TV. “Social media wasn’t what it is today back then.”
Years passed with no finding Heflin.
Then three weeks before Skyler’s high school graduation this spring, Bonnie James found a profile on Facebook she hoped was Heflin.
So she dialed the phone number for the fire station in Patoka, Illinois, and on the other end Heflin heard these words:
“The call was, ‘Are you Charlie Heflin? Do you remember rescuing a baby back in 1995?”’ he recalled. “There were quite a few tears.”
With that, Bonnie James cooked up a major surprise for Sylar: Heflin would come to Skylar’s graduation ceremony at Charleston (Illinois) High School as well as the party after — and she would have no idea who the guest of honor was.
“I was talking to someone at my party and my parents came up and said, ‘We need you for a second,'” Skyler told WFIE.
“They took me over to Charlie and he introduced himself to me and told me the whole story again. I was totally shocked. It’s something that I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid, and it’s amazing.”
Heflin gave Skyler frames containing newspaper clippings of how they first met, and pictures from Skyler’s graduation.
And maybe the best present of all…the jacket Heflin was wearing that day in 1995 when he pulled her out of a pine tree in a cemetery.
Heflin noted that his and Skyler’s story inspired Illinois’ Safe Haven Law which gives new parents the ability to drop-off their newborns at an emergency room, fire station, or police station without repercussions.
Skylar is set to attend Concordia University in Chicago this fall and major in communications.
This story has been updated.